Few studies have explored clinicians' roles in the abortion experience in Ghana. Examining how clinicians understand conscientious objection to abortion—the right to refuse to provide legal abortion on the basis of moral or personal beliefs—may provide insight that could help manage the practice.
Eight in-depth interviews and four focus group discussions were conducted with 14 doctors and 20 midwives in health facilities in Ghana's Eastern and Volta Regions in May 2018. The semi-structured interview guides covered such topics as clinicians' understanding of conscientious objection, how it is practiced and the consequences of conscientious objection for providers and clients. The data were analyzed using thematic analysis.
Most clinicians did not understand the term “conscientious objection,” and midwives had more knowledge on the subject than doctors. The main reasons for conscientious objection were antiabortion religious and cultural beliefs. Clinicians who objected referred clients to willing providers, counseled them to continue the pregnancies or inadvertently encouraged unsafe abortions. The negative consequences of conscientious objection to abortion for clients were complications and death from unsafe abortions; the consequences for providers included high patient volume and stigma for nonobjectors, leading some to claim objection to avoid these.
The findings highlight the need for further research on the consequences of conscientious objection, including stigma leading to refusals. Such research may ultimately help to restrict clinicians' misuse of the right to object and improve women's reproductive health care in Ghana.
John Koku Awoonor-Williams is country lead, Peter Baffoe is deputy country lead, Mathias Aboba is communication officer, Philip Ayivor is director of research and Harry Nartey is research officer—all at Global Doctors for Choice—Ghana, Accra. Beth Felker is project manager, and Dick Van der Tak is executive director, Global Doctors for Choice, New York. Adriana A. E. Biney is lecturer, Regional Institute for Population Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.