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Questionable benefits and unavoidable personal beliefs: defending conscientious objection for abortion
  1. Bruce Philip Blackshaw1,
  2. Daniel Rodger2
  1. 1 Philosophy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  2. 2 Allied Health Sciences, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Bruce Philip Blackshaw, Philosophy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; bblackshaw{at}


Conscientious objection in healthcare has come under heavy criticism on two grounds recently, particularly regarding abortion provision. First, critics claim conscientious objection involves a refusal to provide a legal and beneficial procedure requested by a patient, denying them access to healthcare. Second, they argue the exercise of conscientious objection is based on unverifiable personal beliefs. These characteristics, it is claimed, disqualify conscientious objection in healthcare. Here, we defend conscientious objection in the context of abortion provision. We show that abortion has a dubitable claim to be medically beneficial, is rarely clinically indicated, and that conscientious objections should be accepted in these circumstances. We also show that reliance on personal beliefs is difficult to avoid if any form of objection is to be permitted, even if it is based on criteria such as the principles and values of the profession or the scope of professional practice.

  • conscientious objection
  • reproductive medicine
  • codes of/position statements on professional ethics
  • abortion
  • clinical ethics

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  • Contributors The majority of this paper has been written by BPB, the first author. DR, the second author, has also contributed significantly and this paper could not have been written without him.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.