Belfast Telegraph

Medics will quit if abortion reform does not protect their right to opt out, warns GP

Co Antrim GP, Dr Andrew Cupples
Co Antrim GP, Dr Andrew Cupples
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

More than 100 health professionals have written to the Secretary of State Julian Smith expressing concern over the new abortion framework for Northern Ireland.

Last month the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) launched a six-week consultation on the legal framework governing abortion ahead of the introduction of termination services here on March 31, 2020.

In July MPs at Westminster forced the Government to provide access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

The NIO consultation document covers a number of issues, including questions on the gestational limit for early terminations of pregnancy.

But a total of 135 GPs, nurses, midwives, radiographers, pharmacists and medical students argue that the document is deeply flawed in how it deals with rights of conscience.

Among the signatories is Co Antrim-based GP Dr Andrew Cupples who believes that the legislation is being rushed through without proper consultation with the medical profession or consideration of their religious beliefs.

He says proposals in the consultation put health professionals in an invidious position.

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The healthcare workers have written to Julian Smith, saying they can no longer remain silent on the issue. In their letter issued through pro-life charity Care (Christian Action, Research and Education) NI, the medics say the Secretary of State must understand the concern felt by people in Northern Ireland, not only about the imposition of the new framework but also its "ham-fisted, overreaching and unwanted nature". In the letter, they said: "Many healthcare professionals entered their profession because they desired to protect and uphold life.

"Consequently, many object to any involvement in abortion provision which by its very nature involves the ending of human life." While welcoming the fact that healthcare professionals who object to abortion do not have to participate in a 'hands-on' capacity in the procedure, the medics say that, for many, requests to act in an ancillary, administrative or managerial task in abortion provision may be equally problematic.

"Performing such tasks may be key to an abortion taking place and could lead to the professional in question feeling they are complicit in something they believe to be deeply wrong," they added.

"It may be the case that some excellent healthcare professionals, who have given their lives to helping patients, feel they have no choice but to leave the profession they love if they are mandated to act in a way which is contrary to their conscience."

They added: "The Northern Ireland health system is under enormous strain at the current time.

"Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are struggling to find and retain staff.

"If this measure goes ahead as proposed in the consultation document, an additional barrier will be put up for staff who for understandable reasons conscientiously object to abortion.

"Such a move is unnecessary.

"The consultation document provides no evidence whatsoever as to the numbers of healthcare professionals who it is believed will object to providing abortion services.

"We urge the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider the position they are putting forward.

"It is possible to provide abortion services to all those who are seeking such services while respecting in a fulsome manner the rights of conscience of healthcare professionals.

"The value of life, the need to celebrate and accommodate conscientious objection, and the protection of the integrity of our democracy is too precious for us to remain silent," the healthcare workers added.

The NIO did not respond to a request for comment when contacted yesterday.

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