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Conscientious objection was barely mentioned in debates about the ethics of healthcare provision before the 1970s.1 The conscientious objections that attracted public and academic attention were those of conscripts who objected to participation in military forces, and of parents who objected to the vaccination of their children. All of this was changed by the 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion in the USA. Shortly after this decision, the American Medical Association's (AMA) House of Delegates, the peak policy-making body within the AMA, adopted a resolution that sought to protect hospital employees from having to contribute to the provision of abortion if they felt that doing so was immoral. The resolution was adopted in response to a specific controversial court decision, but the language employed in it was broad in scope. House of Delegates Health Policy 5.995 contained a conscience clause stating that ‘Neither physician, hospital, …
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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