There's been a lot gnashing of teeth on US Feminist blogs about a regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that gives legal protection to doctors and health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions or refer women to others that might. Further confounding matters is that the regulations on what constitutes an abortion have been left vague enough that providers can opt out of offering the abortion pill RU-486 and emergency contraception.
This change, which has gotten Pro-Choice activists in the States so angry because of its attack on women's right to choose, has actually been on the statute books here in New Zealand for quite some time. Yep you read correctly. In New Zealand your doctor has a legally enshrined right not only refuse to not perform an abortion (which is a moot point as you have to find two 'certifying consultants' to ok the procedure in the first place) but also has the right to deny access and information to contraception if they object to doing so on grounds of conscience.
The law is very much a reflection of the era in which it was drafted, Doctors (who were almost exclusively male) were held in relatively high esteem and sex outside the confines of marriage were strongly frowned upon. However society has moved on, defacto relationships are commonplace and patients have had formal rights for well over 10 years. Why should we not have those same rights also extend to abortion and more importantly contraception in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies not mention STDs from happening in the first place?
Given that medicine in this country is largely funded by the taxpayer, we do need to start asking difficult questions about whether providers' views abortion and contraception should determine a patient has access to care. I think it is a question that we also need to start asking would-be doctors. If a prospective medical student finds that they are uncomfortable about discussing contraception, gay sexual health or performing medical procedures like abortion, then I believe that they need to find a different career. We expect our biology teachers to discuss evolution as part of the school curriculum even if they believe in Intelligent Design and we expect our Police Officers to enforce our laws even if they don't agree with all of them. It is about time that doctors no longer have the 'right' to put our sexual health in the 'too hard' basket because it makes them uncomfortable.