Stigma, Conscience, and Contested Medical Procedures
Conscientious objection (CO) in healthcare provision is widely represented in discourse and in law as synonymous with opposition to contraception, sterilization or abortion. The pairing of “conscience” with opposition to family planning services is an understandable product of its history, since the first federal conscience protections for health care workers came in the immediate wake of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Over the past forty years, the idea that “conscience-based” care means not providing contested services has become entirely naturalized, reinforced by both anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. In her talk, Dr. Harris suggests that this understanding of conscience and family planning care – that they are in opposition – represents a false dichotomization. This depiction neglects entirely that provision of contraception and abortion care is also conscience-based, evidenced by the narratives of health care providers and by the considerable risks of stigma, criminalization and harassment to which doctors and nurses have routinely subjected themselves to provide these services over the past century. This neglect of the alignment of conscience and family planning care has important consequences for law, clinical practice and bioethical theory, which Dr. Harris will discuss.
Lisa Harris, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan
Recorded April 11, 2013