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Humanist parliamentarians oppose Bill that would limit access to abortion and increase suffering at the end of life

Baroness Thornton was among those humanist peers who spoke out against the bill.

Several members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) have spoken in opposition to the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activites) Bill, which received its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday. Humanists UK, which opposes this Bill, welcomes these interventions which highlighted major and worrying flaws in the proposed changes that risk undermining the role of patients in determining their own healthcare choices.

At the moment, staff can object to carrying out abortions if they are directly involved in its provision. However, the Bill seeks to dramatically extend the right to object to any staff, whether directly involved in the procedure or not, and to allow medical professionals to refuse the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, even in cases where that is against the patient’s express wishes.

Baroness Barker stated that ‘the Bill is one example of a much larger movement in which people who oppose certain legislation on matters of what I would consider to be social progress use the issue of conscience as a proxy by which to undermine laws which are democratically passed. That is a serious and insidious development, and one that we in this House should strongly resist. This is not about the clarification of conscience, it is about the extension of people’s rights to opt out of provisions of laws which have been carefully considered and agreed in great detail in our democratic institutions.’

Her views were echoed by APPHG members Baroness Thornton and Lord Cashman, the former stated that the Bill is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, whilst the latter commented that he was concerned that although ‘I respect and defend the right to freedom of religion and belief… I do not respect the right to impose religion and beliefs upon others who do not share them, and in so doing diminish the rights of others.’ He concluded that this Bill could have a hugely adverse effect on healthcare provision.

Other members of the APPHG who spoke out against the Bill included Viscount Craigavon, who was concerned that there had not been any consultation with the General Pharmaceutical Council on the terms of the Bill, and Lord Dubs, who expressed concern that there was no requirement to refer patients to another provider thus leaving them without access to care.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘The current law, established under the Abortion Act 1967 and reinforced by a recent Supreme Court ruling, provides a sensible framework for those who object to directly performing abortion procedures to opt out of doing so. This Bill, in attempting to broaden the scope of objection and introducing a new provision to refuse to withdraw life-sustaining treatment, will limit patients’ ability to make their own choices about their healthcare.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on or 0207 324 3065.

Read more about Humanists UK campaign work on conscientious objection:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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