Abortion and conscientious objection: Doogan - A missed opportunity for an instructive rights-based analysis

Shawn Harmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abortion is considered by some to be a morally questionable intervention, one which entitles the healthcarer to exercise conscientious objection so as to opt out of acting. The healthcarer’s right to do so was recently considered by the UK Supreme Court in Greater Glasgow Health Board v Doogan & Wood, a case which set some boundaries on conscientious objection but which failed to engage holistically with the foundation of conscientious objection and its position relative to the competing right to adequate healthcare, a failure which must be seen as a lost opportunity given the manifold threats to timely access to abortion. This paper fills the lacunae. After noting the weaknesses in the Doogan judgment, it justifies the adoption of a more robust approach by the UKSC, and then analyses the moral and rights foundations of abortion and conscientious objection, noticing as it does the growing practical problem that is the expansion and misuse of conscientious objection in women’s health (i.e., its deployment as a barrier to women seeking lawful abortion services). It concludes that courts everywhere, but particularly in jurisdictions that are widely persuasive, such as the UK, when faced with the opportunity to pronounce on the right to abortion and the operation of conscientious objection, should take full advantage, and in doing so should adopt a critical and restrictive approach to its availability in the healthcare context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalMedical Law International
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2016


  • abortion
  • conscientious objection
  • human rights
  • jurisprudence


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