Conscientious objection (CO) in healthcare provision is widely represented in discourse and in law as synonymous with opposition to contraception, sterilization or abortion. The pairing of “conscience” with opposition to family planning services is an understandable product of its history, since the first federal conscience protections for health care workers came in the immediate wake of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Over the past forty years, the idea that “conscience-based” care means not providing contested services has become entirely naturalized, reinforced by both anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. In her talk, Dr. Harris will suggest that this understanding of conscience and family planning care – that they are in opposition – represents a false dichotomization. This depiction neglects entirely that provision of contraception and abortion care is also conscience-based, evidenced by the narratives of health care providers and by the considerable risks of stigma, criminalization and harassment to which doctors and nurses have routinely subjected themselves to provide these services over the past century. This neglect of the alignment of conscience and family planning care has important consequences for law, clinical practice and bioethical theory, which Dr. Harris will discuss.
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Lisa Harris, MD, PhD; is an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Studies at University of Michigan. Dr. Harris earned her AB in English Literature at Harvard College, and her MD from Harvard Medical School, and her PhD in American Culture at the University of Michigan. She has been a faculty member at the University of Michigan since 1998, where she teaches students across campus, in the Medical School, School of Public Health, and College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts. In her research she examines issues at the intersection of clinical obstetrical and gynecological care and law, policy, politics, ethics, history and sociology. She is currently finishing a book on the history of in vitro fertilization in which she situates the rise in technological reproduction in the larger social and political contexts of changing women’s roles in society, the legalization of abortion, the rise of the religious right, and ongoing erosion of reproductive health resources for poor women of color. She also studies the experiences of abortion workers, abortion stigma, and the clinical and ethical consequences of restrictive abortion legislation.
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