BackgroundThe Ethiopian law on abortion was liberalized in 2005. However, as a strongly religious country, the new law has remained controversial from the outset. Many abortion providers have religious allegiances, which begs the question how to negotiate the conflicting demands of their jobs and their commitment to their patients on the one hand, and their religious convictions and moral values on the other.
MethodA qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with 30 healthcare professionals involved in abortion services in either private/non-governmental clinics or in public hospitals in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Transcripts were analyzed using systematic text condensation, a qualitative analysis framework.
ResultsFor the participants, religious norms and the view that the early fetus has a moral right to life count against providing abortion; while the interests and needs of the pregnant woman supports providing abortion services. The professionals weighed these value considerations differently and reached different conclusions. One group appears to have experienced genuine conflicts of conscience, while another group attempted to reconcile religious norms and values with their work, especially through framing provision of abortion as helping and preventing harm and suffering. The professionals handle this moral balancing act on their own. In general, participants working in the private sector reported less moral dilemma with abortion than did their colleagues from public hospitals.
ConclusionsThis study highlights the difficulties in reconciling tensions between religious convictions and moral norms and values, and professional duties. Such insights might inform guidelines and healthcare ethics education.
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