Conscientious Objection does not belong in the Equality Act
Published in the MaltaToday on Sunday 04.10.2020
It is quite obvious by now that there is a concerted effort by conservative forces in our country against the Equality Act - a law that if passed unamended will ensure every citizen in our country is treated with dignity and respect regardless of their personal characteristics. Those who oppose the Act know that they cannot stop it from being enacted in some form, so they have resorted to pushing forward amendments that will render the Act almost useless and unenforceable.
The conscientious objection clause aims to do just that. If introduced into the Act, it will allow professionals to object to offer any service to any person, without justification. The proposed clause refers to all professionals, not just doctors, and has no safeguards to ensure that people do not come to harm when they are shown the door. The proposed clause does not compel the professional to give any information or to refer, and it also does not exclude emergency care from being withheld. This is clearly unsafe, and on this basis alone the amendment should be rejected.
The conscientious objection clause is not about refusing to do abortion or euthanasia – these are currently illegal and there will be plenty of time to discuss how these services can be provisioned if Bills to legalise them are presented in the future. Rather, this clause is about safeguarding the “conscience rights” of those who wish to discriminate - in other words it aims to legalise withholding services to minorities in our country.
Who will suffer the most if the conscientious objection clause is accepted? The answer is those people who the Equality Act aims to protect the most – LGBTI people and women. If conscientious objection is legitimised in law, it will be harder than ever before for these members of society to access services, ironically through a law that was meant to have the opposite effect. Women will find it more difficult to access contraception, couples will find it more difficult to access IVF, and LGBTI people will find it more difficult to access LGBTI-specific healthcare.
Make no mistake, the main proponents of this clause know very well what the effects will be. This clause is a veritable Trojan horse that aims to torpedo the Equality Act’s aim of safeguarding minorities’ access to services.
Will the government give in to pressure and compromise on equality, or will it stand on the right side of history with the most marginalised in our society and reject the conscientious objection clause?
By Dr Chris Barbara