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We argue that, in certain circumstances, doctors might be professionally justified to provide abortions even in those jurisdictions where abortion is illegal. That it is at least professionally permissible does not mean that they have an all-things-considered ethical justification or obligation to provide illegal abortions or that professional obligations or professional permissibility trump legal obligations. It rather means that professional organisations should respect and indeed protect doctors' positive claims of conscience to provide abortions if they plausibly track what is in the best medical interests of their patients. It is the responsibility of state authorities to enforce the law, but it is the responsibility of professional organisations to uphold the highest standards of medical ethics, even when they conflict with the law. Whatever the legal sanctions in place, healthcare professionals should not be sanctioned by the professional bodies for providing abortions according to professional standards, even if illegally. Indeed, professional organisation should lobby to offer protection to such professionals. Our arguments have practical implications for what healthcare professionals and healthcare professional organisations may or should do in those jurisdictions that legally prohibit abortion, such as some US States after the reversal of Roe v Wade.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Ethics

Publication Date



Abortion - Induced, Conscientious Refusal to Treat, Ethics- Medical