Attitudes to conscientious objection in abortion services investigated by Trinity researchers

Posted on: 21 March 2023

A nationwide survey on healthcare workers’ views and experiences of conscientious objection in abortion services in Ireland has been launched by Trinity researchers. 

The research team is seeking input from healthcare workers on the operation of the right to conscientious objection, since the commencement of abortion services in Ireland in 2019. All groups involved in the healthcare service provision in Ireland are being invited to participate in the anonymous survey ­e.g. doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, hospital administrators and healthcare assistants and students.

The survey forms part of Trinity’s CORALE Study. The project will undertake a theoretical analysis to situate the right to conscientious objection in a legal and ethical theoretical framework. It will also gather the views of clinicians through individual and group interviews and as through the anonymous survey. 

Funded by the Irish Research Council, the project brings together researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, the School of Law and the School of School of Religion, Theology, and Peace Studies. The project is led by Prof. Joan Lalor (Nursing and Midwifery) and Dr Andrea Mulligan (Law), with Prof. Linda Hogan (Ecumenics) and Prof. Desmond Ryan (Law) as co-investigators.

Andrea Mulligan, Assistant Professor, School of Law and Principal Investigator on the project said: 

“In May 2018 the Irish people voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution and paved the way for the rollout of termination of pregnancy services in 2019, heralding a radical change in clinical practice as well as in law. A challenge that has emerged is how to accommodate the right to conscientious objection while ensuring access to termination of pregnancy services.

“Our study seeks to investigate the real-life operation of an ethically informed law in the healthcare setting. The only way to do that is through combining legal, ethical and clinical expertise. We are very proud of the inherently interdisciplinary nature of our study, which brings together expertise from the disciplines of midwifery, law and ethics.”

Joan Lalor, Professor in Midwifery, School of Nursing & Midwifery, and Principal Investigator on the study added:

“The Health (Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 gives doctors, nurses and midwives the right to refuse to participate in a termination to which they have conscientious objection as long as the pregnant person’s life or health are not in danger. According to the law, they must, however, arrange to transfer care of the woman to enable her to access termination. 

“Whilst some participants have expressed concerns that making arrangements to refer a woman to another clinician is in fact a limitation to the right to conscientious objection, others are concerned when arrangements are not made there are no clear mechanisms in the Act to address this.” 

The CORALE team has recently shared some preliminary observations with Marie O’Shea, Chair of the independent review into the State’s abortion laws.

More about the CORALE Project:

The CORALE Study (Conscientious Objection after Repeal: Abortion, Law and Ethics) is an interdisciplinary project, based at Trinity, that examines conscientious objection in termination of pregnancy services in Ireland. The study is funded via a €194,000 COALESCE Award from the Irish Research Council. Read more

The survey, which will be live until the end of April, takes 10-25 minutes and can be done on any device. It will can be accessed here.

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