Emergency Contraception: are the rights to conscience and to reproductive freedom irreconcilable?
Emergency Contraception (EC) has been gaining attention for its controversial nature, from the ethical, moral and religious perspectives. Objecting health professionals feel that the implementation of certain procedures or the prescription of some drugs would engender a conflict of conscience. That is also true in the context of reproductive medicine and not only limited to EC, but including abortion and some medically-assisted procreation procedures; all such procedures have created a rift between sexuality and procreation that has substantial ethical complexities.
Provided that respect for conscience is essential, and codified in many national and international statutes, any refusal to provide services or medication should be limited if it might negatively affect a patient’s health, is based on scientific misinformation, or could bring about inequalities of any kind. First and foremost, any imposition of religious or moral beliefs on patients should not be countenanced.
In fact, any form of conscientious objection that could harm patient well-being should be allowed only if the fundamental duty towards patients can be effectively discharged. The right to thorough and unbiased information is crucial so as to enable patients to make well-informed decisions. Moreover, as the WHO has remarked, access to safe and legal reproductive services should be fostered particularly in at-risk, resource-poor areas.