Sometimes a medical practitioner may object on moral grounds to performing an abortion. Legislation exists in some jurisdictions—South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory—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 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.
Similarly, in the Northern Territory, the Medical Services Act (NT) provides that medical staff are under no duty ‘to terminate or assist in terminating a woman’s pregnancy, or to assist in disposing of an aborted fetus, if the person has a conscientious objection to doing so’.