Reproductive Health Services and the Law and Ethics of Conscientious Objection

Medicine and Law, Vol. 20, p. 283, 2001

11 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2008 Last revised: 22 Sep 2009

See all articles by Bernard Dickens

Bernard Dickens

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 14, 2008


Reproductive health services address contraception, sterilization and abortion, and new technologies such as gamete selection and manipulation, in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood. Artificial fertility control and medically assisted reproduction are opposed by conservative religions and philosophies, whose adherents may object to participation. Physicians' conscientious objection to non-lifesaving interventions in pregnancy have long been accepted. Nurses' claims are less recognized, allowing nonparticipation in abortions but not refusal of patient preparation and aftercare. Objections of others in health-related activities, such as serving meals to abortion patients and typing abortion referral letters, have been disallowed. Pharmacists may claim refusal rights over fulfilling prescriptions for emergency (post-coital) contraceptives and drugs for medical (i.e. non-surgical) abortion. This paper addresses limits to conscientious objection to participation in reproductive health services, and conditions to which rights of objection may be subject. Individuals have human rights to freedom of religious conscience, but institutions, as artificial legal persons, may not claim this right.

Keywords: Conscientious objection, physicians' conscientious objection, nurses' conscientious objection, medical students' conscientious objection, hospitals' conscientious objection, pharmacists' conscientious objection, religiously-based hospitals, employment discrimination, abortion, sterilization

Suggested Citation

Dickens, Bernard, Reproductive Health Services and the Law and Ethics of Conscientious Objection (August 14, 2008). Medicine and Law, Vol. 20, p. 283, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Bernard Dickens (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
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