Displeased black healthcare worker using computer and reading an e-mail at doctor's office.

Hastings Center Report

Beneath the Sword of Damocles: Moral Obligations of Physicians in a Post-Dobbs Landscape

Abstract: Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a growing web of state laws restricts access to abortion. Here we consider how, ethically, doctors should respond when terminating a pregnancy is clinically indicated but state law imposes restrictions on doing so. We offer a typology of cases in which the dilemma emerges and a brief sketch of the current state of legal prohibitions against providing such care. We examine the issue from the standpoints of conscience, professional ethics, and civil disobedience and conclude that it is almost always morally permissible and praiseworthy to break the law and that, in a subset of cases, it is morally obligatory to do so. We further argue that health care institutions that employ or credential physicians to provide reproductive health care have an ethical duty to provide a basic suite of practical supports for them as they work to ethically resolve the dilemmas before them.

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