Conscientious objection and legal abortion in South Africa: delineating the parameters


  • C. Ngwena University of the Free State, South Africa


The purpose of this article is to delineate the scope and limitations of the exercise of the right to conscientious objection in respect of participation in abortion procedures under the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act. The Act is silent about the right to conscientious objection. However, section 15 of the South African Constitution in particular, implicitly accommodates conscientious objection to abortion. It is submitted that whilst the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act fails to provide the principles for determining the limits of the right to conscientious objection, guidance can be derived from section 36 of the Constitution. It is submitted that section 36 supports the limitation of the right to conscientious objection where maternal life or health is in serious danger or there is a medical emergency. Furthermore, it is argued that in the particular circumstances of South Africa, section 36 is also capable of supporting the imposition of a duty to at least provide the pregnant woman with information about where she might be able to obtain an abortion. It is noted that determining the parties that are entitled to conscientious objection beyond health care professionals that are immediately involved with abortion procedures can raise difficult issues. However, section 36 of the Constitution is, once again, a useful tool for resolving any difficulties in this regard.


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