A general practitioner in Northern Ireland has gathered the signatures of nearly 1,000 medical professionals who have vowed not to commit abortions. On October 22, abortion was decriminalized in Northern Ireland when the clock struck midnight on the deadline set by Westminster for the government of Northern Ireland to re-assemble or see abortion become legalized. Regulations for legalized abortion are required to be in place by March 31, 2020, leaving months in which there are no laws on abortion.
Dr. Andrew Cupples, a Northern Irish GP who opposed the decriminalization of abortion in all cases including rape, wrote a letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary stating that he and the other 911 medical professionals who signed the letter refuse to commit or assist in abortions. Cupples said that they would leave their jobs if their superiors attempted to force them to participate, according to The Independent. Those who signed the letter include doctors, midwives, and nurses.
“Hundreds of healthcare professionals in northern Ireland will refuse to be involved in abortion services,” Cupples told The Independent. “There are even people who are planning to walk away from the healthcare service if they are forced to participate in abortion services. There are also people in obstetrics and gynecology and midwives who are worried if they do not agree to be trained in abortion they could be forced to do so or reprimanded by their employers or a professional body,” he noted.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other politicians attempted to recall the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to block the decriminalization of abortion; however, they failed to elect a new speaker. Westminster has published guidelines for Northern Ireland to use regarding abortion, but those guidelines don’t include conscience protections for midwives and medical staff, according to Cupples. Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, doesn’t think midwives or medical staff deserve conscience protections because they don’t personally carry out the abortions.
Cupples is right to be concerned about medical professionals who oppose abortion being forced to participate in them. A nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center was forced to participate in an abortion or lose her job in 2017 and she filed a complaint with the civil rights office in 2018. Three other nurses spoke to Congress in 2017 about being forced to participate in abortions against their will. And in 2011, 12 nurses in New Jersey were told they must help carry out abortions or lose their jobs.
“I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs and I had to account for all the pieces,” nurse Cathy DeCarlo told Congress in 2017 about an abortion she was forced to take part in. “I still have nightmares about that day.”
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