HomeoldBaroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection Bill deserves our full support

Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection Bill deserves our full support

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Editor’s note. Dr Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organisation with a membership of 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students. This is an extract from a post and is reproduced with permission.

As Christians, we are obliged to respect the authority of the state, which is divinely ordained (Romans 13:1,2). However, it is necessary to consider whether there are any limitations to this obligation. In the event that the authorities attempt to compel us to engage in an act that we consider to be morally reprehensible, what course of action should we pursue?

The ‘Free Conscience’ campaign, which was launched last week with the backing of numerous Christian groups, supports Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill, which passed its second reading (debate stage) in the House of Lords on Friday, 26 January. The bill is now scheduled for a Committee of the Whole House, where amendments may be submitted for debate. Should it then pass a third reading, it will be transmitted to the House of Commons.

The objective of the bill is to reinforce the conscience rights of healthcare professionals who believe that involvement in three specific activities would be morally reprehensible: abortion, activities under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (such as embryo research or egg donation), and withdrawal of life-preserving treatment.

Currently, the law offers general protection for conscientious objection. The Equality Act 2010 includes religion and belief as two of nine ‘protected characteristics’. Furthermore, the Human Rights Act 1998, which brought the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law, states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ (article 9).

However, it should be noted that these rights are not absolute.

With regard to specific protections, the situation is considerably less clear. Statutory law currently only applies to abortion and activities under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. With regard to the issue of abortion, the scope of the relevant legislation is, in fact, very limited.

In 2014, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that two midwives employed at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary could not opt out of their duties as labour ward coordinators, which included the supervision of abortions. The Court ruled that the conscience clause in the Abortion Act 1967 only applied to those directly involved in abortion, and not to those involved in delegation, planning, supervision, and support. This ruling left many health professionals susceptible to undue influence and coercion.

A total of 25 peers participated in the debate, with 13 individuals advocating for the bill and 11 individuals opposing it. The government then provided a response. The Labour Party’s health spokesperson, Baroness Thornton, made it clear that the Labour Party would oppose the bill. Liberal Democrat Baroness Barker stated that the majority of her party colleagues shared her strong opposition to the bill. The government has indicated that it will permit members of parliament to vote according to their conscience.

The primary objections to the bill pertained to its expansion of the scope of the conscience clause to encompass health professionals who were only indirectly involved in the activity in question, as well as its expansion of the number of activities protected. This, they argued, would impede access to patient care. Additionally, several peers proposed that those claiming conscience protection should be required to refer the patient to another professional who would comply.

Those in favour of the bill must address these specific concerns in a convincing manner at the committee stage if the bill is to proceed. It is therefore necessary to address the aforementioned concerns in a convincing manner at the committee stage if the bill is to proceed.

It is also imperative that we oppose the passing of laws which seek to criminalise normal Christian behaviour, which is the objective of Baroness O’Loan’s bill. It is a matter of gratitude that in Britain, the democratic right to participate in shaping public policy is still in place.

The issue of freedom of conscience is not a minor or peripheral one, and its implications extend beyond the Christian community. It is a matter of fundamental importance to the practice of healthcare as a moral activity. The current legislation and professional guidelines in the United Kingdom respect the right of doctors to refuse to engage in certain procedures to which they have a conscientious objection.

The right of conscience serves to safeguard the moral integrity of the individual clinician, to preserve the distinctive characteristics and reputation of medicine as a profession, to act as a safeguard against coercive state power, and to provide protection from discrimination for those with minority ethical beliefs.

It is a cause that is worthy of one’s efforts to advocate for. Those who identify as Christian may engage with this issue through the Free Conscience website, which provides guidance on how to contact one’s Member of Parliament (MP) and encourage them to support the bill. However, it must first be approved by the House of Lords.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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