Conscientious objection

Association and Non-Governmental Organization resources


When a Health Professional Refuses: Legal and regulatory limits on conscientious objection to provision of abortion care. September 2012. Patty Skuster, Senior Policy Advisor, Ipas.

Other Organizations’ resources

Catholics for Choice, In Good Conscience: Respecting the Beliefs of Healthcare providers and the Needs of Patients (2010)

Center for Reproductive Rights Third Party Intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Tysiac v. Poland, App. No. 5410/03, Eur. Ct. H.R. para. 21 ("led 21 Sept. 2005)

Center for Reproductive Rights, Bringing Rights to Bear:  Abortion and Human Rights, Government Duties to Ease Restrictions and Ensure Access to Safe Services, 2008, (See subheadings on conscientious objection)

Guttmacher Institute, Making Abortion Services Accessible in the Wake of Legal Reforms: A Framework and Six Case Studies (April 2012). Identifies a framework of activities that are essential to successfully implement less restrictive abortion laws, including addressing conscientious objection.

International Planned Parenthood Federation, Access to Safe Abortion:  A tool for assessing legal and other obstacles(2008). Includes assessment of practice and law of conscientious objection.

University of Essex Human Rights Centre,  Judith Bueno de Mesquita and Louise Finer, Conscientious Objection: Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (2008).

Professional Associations

International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), Code of Ethics: Professional and Ethical Responsibilities Concerning Sexual and Reproductive Rights, at (Nov. 2003).
In its Code of Ethics, FIGO stated that while health care providers have the right to preserve their moral or religious values, this should not result in the imposition of such values on others.
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), Ethical Framework for Gynecologic and Obstetric Care (2007).
Provides that: “If a physician is either unable or unwilling to provide a desired medical service for non-medical reasons, he or she should make every effort to achieve appropriate referral.”
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), Ethical Guidelines on Conscientious Objection (2005).
Any conscientious objection to treating a patient is secondary to this primary duty which is to treat, provide benefit and do no harm. This duty requires practitioners to provide patients with timely access to information on all available medical options regardless of practitioners’ personal beliefs and to provide medical services when a referral is not possible. -Patients are entitled to be referred in good faith, to practitioners who do not object, referral for services does not constitute participation in a procedure and therefore not covered by conscientious objection protections. Practitioners must provide timely care to their patients when referral to other practitioners is not possible and delay would jeopardise patients’ health and well-being, such as by patients experiencing unwanted pregnancy (see the FIGO Definition of Pregnancy, that pregnancy “commences with the implantation of the conceptus in a woman”). In emergency situations, to preserve life or physical or mental health, practitioners must provide the medically indicated care of their patients’ choice regardless of the practitioners' personal objections.
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), Resolution on “Conscientious Objection”, adopted Nov. 2006.
In this resolution FIGO affirms that to behave ethically, practitioners shall: Provide public notice of professional services they decline to undertake on grounds of conscience; refer patients who request such services or for whose cares such services are medical options to other practitioners who do not object to the provision of such services; provide timely care to their patients regardless of their personal beliefs when referral to other practitioners is not possible and delay would jeopardize patients’ health and well-being; and in emergency situations, provide care regardless of practitioners’ personal objections.  It also notes the duty of practitioners as professionals to abide by scientifically and professionally determined definitions of reproductive health services and not to mischaracterize them on the basis of personal beliefs.
World Medical Association, Declaration on the Rights of the Patient, (Oct. 1981).
While care providers should act on their conscience, they must always act in the best interest of the patient to guarantee her/his “autonomy and justice.”
World Medical Association, Declaration on Therapeutic Abortion (1970, amended 1983 and 2006).
‘..where the law allows therapeutic abortion to be performed, the procedure should be performed by a physician competent to do so in premises approved by the appropriate authority. If the physician's convictions do not allow him or her to advise or perform an abortion, he or she may withdraw while ensuring the continuity of medical care by a qualified colleague.’