The National Abortion Federation has beefed up its assault on Canada’s pro-life movement with a new demand that all doctors in this country be forced to refer for abortions, whether or not they object morally or on religious grounds.

The Washington D.C.-based NAF issued the draconian demand May 9 to the Canadian Medical Association. Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the NAF, claimed physicians must put their patients’ interests ahead of “their own religious and moral convictions.”

Saporta acknowledged that, despite the lack of any legal restrictions on abortion access in Canada, doctors’ reluctance to commit abortions is making it increasingly difficult for women to find someone who will do the procedure. “We’re hearing from women across Canada and from our providers that this is a problem,” Saporta said. “It has reached a critical mass that many women are upset that they haven’t been able to get referrals from their physicians.”

Under the CMA’s conscientious objector policy, doctors are not required to commit abortions and do not have to refer women requesting an abortion to another provider. CMA president Dr. Colin McMillan says the abortion policy has been reconfirmed every year since it was first passed in 1988, most recently in February.

“The CMA’s policy on induced abortion does not violate our Code of Ethics … Nor does it treat women unfairly or impede their access to critical health care,” he stated in a written response to NAF’s demand. Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, said conscience protection for health care workers is increasingly important in the face of new medical technologies. “Now is not the time for us to be weakening the conscience protection for health care workers with the huge changes we are facing with technological capabilities,” Johnston told the National Post. “Now is the time to be strengthening conscience protections, so that people who find themselves uncomfortable with procedures should have their rights protected.”Conscience rights

The NAF’s direct attack on Canadian doctors’ freedom of conscience is the latest development in an ongoing volatile debate over the issue that was unleashed last July, when two pro-abortion lawyers misrepresented the CMA’s policy in a guest editorial in the CMA Journal. Sandra Rodgers and Jocelyn Downie claimed that doctors who refuse to refer for abortion are committing “malpractice.”

CMA ethics director Dr. Jeff Blackmer was quoted in the National Post May 5 as saying that “a huge groundswell from the membership one way or another” could force a re-evaluation of CMA’s abortion policy. Canadian Physicians for Life expressed concern over this opening to re-evaluating the policy of conscientious objection.

“If CMA’s policy were to be changed so that doctors were compelled to make abortion referrals against their consciences or religious beliefs, Canada may one day find itself without any practising pro-life doctors,” warned CPL spokesperson Barbara McAdorey. In response, Canadian Physicians for Life is asking all pro-life Canadians to contact the CMA and request increased protection for the religious and moral freedom of doctors with regards to abortion.

Ted Byfield, writing in the Calgary Sun, pointed out how the debate is serving to highlight the sharply drawn divide in Canada over abortion, despite the efforts of abortion supporters to portray the issue as closed. “Evidently, a rather large percentage of Canadian doctors” do not want to do abortions, Byfield wrote.

A report released by abortion activists recently warned that abortion services in Canada are only available at 15.9 per cent of Canadian hospitals, a voluntary reduction from the 17.8 per cent at last report.

Versions of this article appeared May 14 and 15 at and are used with permission.