Dr Valerie Fleming secures ESRC grant for work on conscientious objection

Dr Valerie Fleming has just secured an ESRC grant for her work on conscientious objection.

Here are details about the project:

Project title: Understanding the extent of and limitations to conscientious objection by health care practitioners to abortion

Context: The 1967 Abortion Act, which was the first legislation on abortion to cover Scotland, England and Wales, has had a significant impact on social norms and healthcare practice. There was substantial controversy around the introduction of the Act and in 2017 with the Act’s 50th anniversary, the topic is once more being brought to society’s attention through various radio and television programmes and workshops and conferences being held in a number of locations. These have shown that the ‘abortion debate’ still has the power to be socially-divisive today. However, another question has come to the fore and that is the right by health care practitioners (HCPs) to ‘conscientious objection’ under section 4 of the Act. At the time of its enactment, this right was granted without question but in more recent times, especially with changes to the practice of carrying out abortions, it has been called into question and its limits have become blurred.

Aim: Our research aims to identify the appropriate parameters of conscientious objection (CO) to abortion, and communicate the findings to a range of national and international beneficiaries.

Main objectives: 1. To explore what HCPs understand as constituting ‘participation in abortion’ by gathering empirical evidence from HCPs working in two geographical areas, both of which provide the full range of abortion services2. To synthesise this evidence with that already available in academic literature, policy documents and legal proceedings. 3. Ultimately, to produce recommendations and guidance on the appropriate parameters of CO to abortion by HCPs

Potential application and benefit: Through a dual approach grounded in empirical and philosophical enquiry the key deliverable from this study will be the identification and delivery of specific recommendations of appropriate parameters for CO to abortion to health care institutions throughout the UK. The findings will have the potential to inform governance, management, and practice in medicine, midwifery, nursing and pharmacy; to impact upon regulation of CO by the UK and devolved governments; and to influence policymaking by international organisations such as the WHO and the international professional bodies. We will then provide clear guidelines for national use.

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