The moral agency of abortion providers: conscientious provision, dangertalk, and the lived experience of doing stigmatized work

by Lisa Harris

In: Ethical Issues in Women’s Healthcare: Practice and Policy, edited by Lori d’Agincourt-Canning and Carolyn Ells (New York: Oxford University Press, April 2019)  (Not open access)

Abstract Until very recently, only negative claims of conscience related to abortion provision were recognized; that is, conscience-based refusal to provide abortion care was recognized but conscience-based provision was not. In fact, to the contrary, abortion providers were and are routinely stigmatized as being devoid of conscience or moral principles. This chapter takes up the moral agency of abortion providers. It deepens understanding of the concept of conscientious provision and considers the intersection of stigma and conscience claims. In addition to stigma, the deep social polarization on abortion prevents abortion providers from feeling that they can safely and freely speak about their work. This means that the lived experiences of abortion providers, including their openness to the moral ambiguities and complexities of abortion, remain hidden. Ultimately, the chapter suggests that abortion providers’ capacities to live in contested arenas, to see the complexities of abortion, and to hold a “tension of opposites” are a manifestation of deep moral engagement, a potential path out of our current polarized state, and a model for civic engagement on any number of issues.