O’Loan submits Bill that would allow medics to refuse to carry out abortions
Baroness Nuala O'Loan has introduced a Parliamentary Bill which, if passed, could allow medical professionals to opt out of providing any abortion services.
The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Act 2017 would also excuse medics from participating in the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.
The Private Member's Bill would apply to all medical professionals on the registers of the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Health and Care Professions Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council in England and Wales.
The Bill states that employers "must not discriminate against or victimise" an employee who conscientiously objects. It has passed its second reading in the House of Lords and will now proceed to the committee stage.
Baroness O'Loan said that the Bill would "provide protection" to conscientious objectors.
"Currently there is limited protection under the 1967 Abortion Act and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act," she said.
"For 30 years it was thought to be the case that people could withdraw, not just from the act of abortion, but from delegating someone to do it.
"That worked to some degree, but not perfectly and it only applied to doctors and nurses. However, in 2007 two midwives, Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, who had worked all their careers in midwifery, were required to manage the abortion process due to a reorganisation.
"They objected and the Court of Session in Edinburgh found in their favour.
"The case went to the Supreme Court in London, who said it applied only to the act of carrying out abortion.
"There was no protection for people who would be required to delegate or manage someone else who was performing the abortion.
"We want to provide protection for other healthcare staff, including GPs and pharmacists.
"People have to have the right to conscientiously object to participate in an activity which would lead to death.
"It wouldn't apply to Northern Ireland as it's a devolved matter."
The peer said that those who disagreed with abortion could suffer if they were forced to facilitate the procedure.
She added: "If I believe that it's morally wrong to do something, if I then direct someone else to do that I must have moral responsibility for that act.
"Are you going to force people to do something they believe to be absolutely morally wrong?"
Baroness O'Loan, a devout Catholic, said she believes life begins at the moment of conception and acknowledged that the Bill could lead to pharmacists denying women the morning after pill. However, she claimed that the Bill's aim was not to restrict access to abortion.
"There is a duty on the NHS to provide these services, not on the individual practitioner," she said.
"The Act is not intended to reduce access to any of these services on the NHS, but would allow people who believe it's morally wrong to kill and who believe that a baby, once conceived has life, not to take part in abortions."
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Alton described the Bill as "brave". However, he added that "without vigorous support from the public, the Bill is probably doomed."