Five years ago, abortion became legal in Victoria, Australia. The law is carefully written to allow women to undergo the procedure without compelling doctors to perform it. Medical professionals who are morally opposed to abortion may refuse (except, as I understand it, in exceedingly rare circumstances where the patient’s life is imminently at risk). They are obligated, under the law, to advise women where to go instead, and the answer can’t be “to hell.” The patient has to be referred to another doctor, one who can help her.
In the words of Daniel Mathews, a pro-choice mathematics lecturer and blogger Down Under,
The law thus balances rights of women, on the one hand — rights to autonomous control of their own bodies, self-determination of their own lives, freedom of conscience, and religion — with the rights of doctors to freedom of conscience and religion, on the other.
And as a practical matter, physicians certainly need not engage patients in uncomfortable, unwelcome discussions:
[They] can simply notify patients of any objection in advance, through a notice in the waiting room or on their website. The Australian Medical Association has even provided templates for this purpose.
In 2011, Dan Mathews’ Facebook feed lit up with a discussion that got his attention. The most noteworthy participant was a suburban Australian medical doctor he didn’t even know, a fervent Christian named Jereth Kok. In response to a post about abortion, Kok wrote that
I get a request for abortion referral about once every 3 or 4 months. I tell the woman politely that it is against my moral principles to advise on this issue, and they need to find someone else to help them. (In a few instances I have attempted to talk them out of it.) Yes, I’m breaking Victoria’s new abortion laws, but I don’t give a stuff — I am not going to soil my conscience by being complicit in the slaughter of children.
Another Facebook commenter reminded Kok of the dangers of back-alley abortions, and the doctor gleefully ran with it, saying that if a woman dies on a quack abortionist’s table,
That’s exactly what she deserved for trying to kill her own child.
I have a 3-month-old baby. If someone snuck into his room with a knife and tried to kill him, but accidentally slipped over and stabbed themselves through the heart, that would be exactly what they deserve. …
“He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.” — Jesus Christ, Matthew 26:52
Actually, with that verse, Jesus advocated non-violence, but such a charitable reading of scripture apparently didn’t appeal to Kok.
In any case, one of the Facebook correspondents or lurkers — not Mathews himself, he says — was sufficiently alarmed by Kok’s boasts of his repeated law-breaking that he or she notified the AHPRA, the National Medical Board. That got Kok in trouble, though not dramatically so. The AHPRA panel gave him a “caution,” the lightest possible slap on the wrist.
It isn’t quite clear to me why this episode is surfacing only now, but it is. (I just saw this news article about it in the U.K. Guardian newspaper.)
Although I frankly find abortion tragic and unsettling, making or keeping the procedure legal sure beats the alternative in my book. And for the record, I consider few things more repulsive than a doctor illicitly foisting his religious views on his patients. Quoth Mathews:
When a patient sees a doctor, the doctor is not supposed to judge the patient’s moral, religious or political beliefs. The doctor is there to help and care for the patient, respecting the patient’s autonomy and agency; certainly not allowing the doctor’s own moral judgments of their patient to affect treatment. If a Jehovah’s Witness refuses a blood transfusion because of a religious belief, the doctor may find the refusal unfounded, ignorant, even stupid; but the patient’s own judgment must prevail.
The Medical Board of Australia’s Code of Conduct states that a medical professional’s conscientious objection may not lead to impeding a patient’s access to treatments that are legal. Ten bucks says that Jereth Kok, who doesn’t “give a stuff,” is doing exactly that to this very day.
(Image via Shutterstock)