Sometimes a medical practitioner may object on moral grounds to performing an abortion. Legislation exists in some jurisdictions that permit doctors with moral objections to abortion to refrain from involvement in such procedures, in certain circumstances.
In South Australia, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) provides that medical professionals are not under a duty to participate in abortions, unless it is ‘necessary to save the life, or prevent grave injury to the physical or mental health, of a pregnant woman’.
In Victoria, the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (Vic) provides that if a woman asks a health practitioner to advise, ‘perform, direct, authorise or supervise an abortion for that woman’ the practitioner must inform them that they have a conscientious objection, and refer the woman to another medical professional who they know does not have a conscientious objection to abortion. The Act requires doctors to perform an abortion, despite any conscientious objection, in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.
In New South Wales, if a registered health practitioner has a conscientious objection to termination they must advise the requesting person of such an objection, give information to that person about how to locate or contact a medical practitioner who does not have a conscientious objection, or transfer the person’s care to another registered health practitioner or to another health service who can provide the termination and does not have a conscientious objection. The conscientious objection provisions do not limit any duty owed by the registered health practitioner to provide a service in an emergency.
In the Northern Territory, the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Act 2017 provides for conscientious objection. Where there is a concsientious objection the medical practitioner must refer the woman, within a clinically reasonable time, to another medical practitioner known not to have such an objection.
In Western Australia, the Health Act 1911 (WA) also contains a conscientious objection provision, but unlike its counterparts in South Australia and Victoria, the Act contains no exceptions as to when a doctor must participate in an abortion.