‘Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice’ Workshop, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK, 29 June 2017

On Thursday 29th June I attended a conference at the University of Kent entitled ‘Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice’ organised by Dr Ellie Lee and Professor Sally Sheldon as a collaboration between the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Reproduction (CISoR), the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas). This conference was part of a series of events for the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act and aimed to promote critical reflection on this legislation. There were four main sections to the day: ‘Doctors and the Abortion Act 1967,’ ‘Abortion Providers: Doctors Who Do’, ‘Conscientious Objection: Doctors Who Don’t’ and finally closing remarks from Ann Furedi (bpas Chief Executive).

Overall this conference was extremely interesting with scholars from around the world giving fascinating talks on the issue of conscience. One of the most memorable comments of the day was made by Professor Malcolm Potts (University of California at Berkeley) who said the abortion procedure is the only one in America where “the surgeon is more likely to die than the patient”. This comment was striking for me as it really drew attention to the fantastic, yet dangerous jobs medical professionals across the globe do in providing safe abortions to women. A further interesting point raised at this conference was regarding the conscientious objection clause and the current debate surrounding the position of abortion in medicine. There were many different opinions on the conscientious objection clause of the 1967 Abortion Act at the conference. Some people attending the conference believed that abortion should be considered a routine aspect of obstetrics and gynaecology, and if any doctor conscientiously objects to abortion then they should specialise in a different field of medicine. This is widely linked to debates on the position of abortion within medicine in Britain and is definitely a discussion that needs to continue.

Finally, I would like to highlight the ‘My Abortion Experience’ project led by Dr Lesley Hoggart. During the conference we were shown several films of young women describing their experience of abortion. The stories these young women told were inspirational and showed the importance of the work that medical professionals who are involved in the provision of abortion do on a daily basis. There is an upcoming 2-day conference in London as part of this series on 24–25 October 2017 entitled ‘The Abortion Act 1967: A Promise Fulfilled?’, which aims to address a range of important socio-legal, historical, political and clinical practice-based questions, focusing on the hopes and strategies of the broad coalition (made up of disparate constituencies) in favour of liberalising change and the extent to which they have been realised.

Hannah Pereira

ESRC PhD Candidate in Social Policy, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK; hp273@kent.ac.uk