BY SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC doctors could be stripped of their right to refuse to arrange abortions under proposals to be debated next week.
They will no longer be able to conscientiously object to authorising abortions but instead will be compelled to send any woman requesting the procedure directly to an abortion clinic. The proposal has caused immense anger among the growing number of doctors who have moral objections to abortion with about one in four now refusing to sign consent forms.
Some may launch a test op case if, as expected, the move 1.",• is pushed through the British IF Medical Association's policy! , making body on Thursday.
The motion has been tabled ahead of the BMA's annual general meeting by the Oxford Division. It coincides with another amendment tabled in the House of Commons by abortion campaigner Dr Evan Harris, the Lib Dem MP and member of the Oxford Division, to scrap the requirement that two doctors must consent to an abortion before it can be carried out.
This will mean that women with unwanted pregnancies can bypass their GPs and go directly to an abortion clinic where either a single doctor or nurse can authorise the procedure. Coupled with the proposed changes to the con science clause it will also mean that if a woman presents herself to her GP then the doctor must refer her to an abortionist.
On Tuesday Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff said "I very much hope that the BMA at its forthcoming annual meeting will reject proposals to limit the right of doctors to conscientiously object to participating in the process of authorising abortions. The right of conscience is a fundamental human right."
Archbishop Smith added that one of the most recent codes of practice the Mental Capacity Act 2005 affirmed that the "doctor's right to act according to his conscience remains firmly embedded both in medical practice and in the law".
Catholic doctors believe the plan will make them complicit in an act they hold to be evil, but they are also supported by other Christian, Jewish and Muslim doctors as well as some of no religious faith.
They are ready to argue at the BMA conference that it would be unlawful to deny doctors a right of conscientious objection that is enshrined in Section 4 of the 1967 Abortion Act.
Dr Tony Cole of the Catholic Medical Association said: "This would spell the death of the right of conscience. It takes away the right of conscience already guaranteed by statute. This is open to legal challenge." Dr Majid Katme of the Islamic Medical Association said: "The conscience clause should not be removed. You cannot force me, as a doctor, to do things against my conscience. Something very dangerous is going on."
The motion insists that GPs "must refer" any woman to a doctor who will arrange an abortion if they will not do so themselves. If adopted by the BMA it will become policy, informing future good practice guidelines issued by the Department of Health. Pressure will also be applied to the General Medical Council, which regulates the conduct of the medical profession, to enforce the policy among Britain's doctors.
Present GMC guidance states that a doctor must explain a moral objection to a patient and "tell them they have the right to see another doctor". They are not obliged to refer women specifically to a named doctor or organisation in the knowledge that they will arrange an abortion.
Neil Addison, a barrister and expert on religious discrimination law, said he believed the motion was in breach of human rights and employment rights law.
He said the motion would create a weapon to impose a new morality "upon doctors who disagree with abortion".
He added: "Dr Harris claims Continued on Page 2 Editodal Comment: Page 11