Conscientious objection

World Health Organization resources

World Health Organization, Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems, 2nd edition (2012).
Who recommends the Establishment of national standards and guide- lines facilitating access to and provision of safe abortion care to the full extent of the law. It recommends that such standards and guidelines should cover conscientious objection (p.63).
WHO recognizes conscientious objection as a barrier to lawful abortion services which impedes women from reaching the services for which they are eligible and contribute to unsafe abortion (p.87). In such cases, health-care providers must refer the woman to a willing and trained provider in the same, or another easily accessible health-care facility, in accordance with national law. Where referral is not possible, the health-care professional who objects, must provide safe abortion to save the woman’s life and to prevent damage to her health. WHO further recommends that health services should be organized in such a way as to ensure that an effective exercise of the freedom of conscience of health professionals does not prevent patients from obtaining access to services to which they are entitled under the applicable legislation.  Laws and regulations should not entitle providers and institutions to impede women’s access to lawful health services (pp. 69, 94, 96).
The WHO has further pointed out that health providers owe their patients an ethical obligation, which requires them to inform patients of all the treatment options available. WHO also recommends that the training content for abortion service providers includes ethical responsibility to provide abortion (or to refer women when the health-care professional has conscientious objection to providing abortion) and to treat complications from unsafe abortion (p. 73).
World Health Organization, Considerations for Formulating Reproductive Health Laws, (2nd edition, 2000)
The purpose of this Discussion Paper is to consider how laws can be developed in order to improve protection of reproductive and sexual health, and how they can be applied to facilitate rather than obstruct the availability of reproductive and sexual health services. It addresses legal principles governing relations between providers of health services in general and of reproductive and sexual health services in particular, and intended recipients of those services. The legal principles examined the use of conscientious objection. The Paper explores how human rights found in national constitutions and laws, regional and international treaties have been and can be more effectively applied to protect and promote reproductive and sexual health.