Conscientious objection, harm reduction and abortion care
in Ethical and legal debates in Irish healthcare
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This chapter argues that debates about conscientious objection in health care would benefit from distinguishing clearly between two distinct sets of issues 1) who qualifies for conscientious objection and 2) how conscientious objection ought to be limited in order to prevent harm to others. It argues that institutions (e.g. hospitals) and indirect participants (e.g. pregnancy counselors) ought not qualify for conscientious objection but for different reasons. Institutions ought not qualify because they do not have the kind of critical moral consciousness which is necessary to ground a right to conscientious objection. Indirect participants ought not qualify for two reasons: first, denying someone pre or post abortion care is harmful in discriminating against receivers of lawful abortion care and is more than is necessary for the protection of objectors’ moral integrity and secondly, information about pregnancy and abortion care will not necessarily lead to an abortion and after care cannot prevent abortion. In this way the chapter proposes that Irish debates about conscientious objection in a healthcare context need to move beyond a consideration of the powers of religiously run hospitals and towards a rights based method of assessing conscientious objection in light of the need to recognise moral integrity and prevent harm.

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