Nurses and midwives who have conscientious objections to the termination of pregnancy are still completely in the dark about how their jobs will change with just weeks to go to the roll-out of the proposed new abortion law, it was claimed yesterday.
The new law will allow health staff the option of not participating in an abortion if it conflicts with their beliefs.
But there is particular concern about nurses and midwives who not only want to opt out due to freedom of conscience, but also object to directing a woman to an abortion provider.
The issues were raised yesterday by the Nurses4Life group, which produced a petition signed by 350 registered nurses asking for Health Minister Simon Harris to protect their freedom of conscience.
Margaret Fitzgibbon, a lecturer in nursing, said staff shortages mean that all the nursing staff rostered on a maternity unit may hold the same pro-life views when an abortion is scheduled, plunging them into a deeply uncomfortable dilemma.
She said duties placed on nurses in the new law can "involve supervision, delegation, planning or supporting of staff involved in termination of pregnancy".
"We do not want to be discriminated against by our employers or victimised as employees if we exercise our freedom of conscience," she said.
Ms Fitzgibbon said there is a potential for conflicts to arise in hospitals and these could escalate to the courts.
Two other members of the group, Fiona McHugh, a clinical paediatric nurse specialist, and Margaret McGovern, a general nurse, also highlighted how it has not been raised at hospital level by senior nursing managers.
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said last night: "Regarding conscientious objection, it is important to state this legislation does not require medical practitioners, nurses or midwives to do anything new, or indeed anything more than they are already ethically required to do under their own professional guidance.
"As you are aware, Dr Peter Boylan has been appointed by the HSE to assist with their preparations for the implementation of arrangements for termination of pregnancy and related services.
"Dr Boylan has held significant consultation with representative organisations about the operation of this service."
Regarding potential problems with rosters, she said: "Rosters are a matter for the management of each individual hospital."