Doctors against abortion should refer patients to those who support it - experts

University of Otago researchers believe doctors should be banned from refusing women access to abortion services. 

Bioethics specialist Associate Professor Angela Ballantyne argues the law at present is weighted towards doctors' interests.

"That really broad scope for conscientious objection is likely to be contributing to delays in women accessing timely abortion services in New Zealand."

She's one of three academics who penned an article in Friday's edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, arguing the upcoming abortion law reform should include a "compromise" between doctors opposed to abortion and patients who want access to it.

Presently, according to the article, "a practitioner's duties in New Zealand are minimal. They need only inform the woman of the option of seeking out another provider, but are not required to put her in touch with an alternative provider, facilitate her transfer or even provide contact details."

Ballantyne says doctors who refuse to refer women to abortion providers are dragging out the ordeal.

"The current legal framework in New Zealand is too heavily balanced in favour of protecting doctors' rights."

The authors suggest doctors who object to the procedure should direct patients to one who does not. 

"We think that doctors should be required to essentially hold the patient's hand - if they don't want to do the referral to the abortion service themselves, they should still be ethically obliged to make sure that that patient gets to another doctor that can do the referral." 

A draft on abortion law reform is currently underway. The New Zealand Medical Association has argued in favour of the status quo, in which doctors aren't required to refer patients on, while the New Zealand College of Midwives, the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists want change.