Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 72 (4) November 2022


Being an abortion provider as a conflict of interest

Dear Editor,

One of the recent changes in the UK cabinet, after Liz Truss became the Prime Minister, was that Dr Therese Coffey become the new Health Secretary. Some news outlets were quick to point out her anti-abortion stance (see e.g. (1–3)) and that this, according to them, might be a problem. While pro-lifers might not completely rejoice over this situation as Coffey stated that ‘she wouldn’t “seek to undo” abortion laws’(3), I do not wish to focus here on speculating on the future status of UK abortion legislation. Rather, I wish to focus on some statements quoted by the media as made by Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), who stated that: (2,4)

  1. ‘Earlier this year, our new Health Secretary voted to revoke access to at-home abortion care, and recriminalise women who end their own pregnancies without the approval of two doctors.
  2. In doing so, Therese Coffey voted against the advice of leading medical bodies.’
  3. To have a health secretary who would place their personal beliefs above expert clinical guidance is deeply concerning.’

Coffey is a Catholic, and this brings back to mind some of the aspects of the debate surrounding conflicts of interest in bioethics. There have been, for example, discussions and proposals that having a religious belief should be declared as a conflict of interest.(5,6) But something seems to be missing in these portrayals of conflict of interest and the disagreement between Coffey and these ‘leading medical bodies’. If we regard financial conflicts of interests as the classical case of such conflicts that is used as a reference to other types of conflicts of interest,(5,6) then why do we not see the media complaining that ‘leading medical bodies’ support procedures that will give them more work oppor-tunities and improve their financial stability? To paraphrase Murphy who (according to the BBC 'said while politicians were entitled to their own views on abortion, what mattered was whether their "personal convictions stand in the way of women's ability to act on their own”. (4) perhaps ‘BPAS and the leading medical bodies are entitled to considerations of their financial interests, but what matters is whether the advice they give is clinically sound and founded in the principles of ethical clinical practice. In Matthew 6:24 Our Lord said that one cannot serve two masters, so perhaps we should not be so concerned with Coffey consulting her conscience, but rather scrutinise clinical institutions.

Dr Michal Pruski


  1. Bennett C. Champagne and cigars are just fine. It’s Thérèse Coffey’s views on abortion that worry me. The Observer [Internet]. 2022 Sep 10 [cited 2022 Sep 10]; Available from:
  2. Wells A. Therese Coffey: New health secretary’s views on abortion ‘deeply concerning’ [Internet]. yahoo!news. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 10]. Available from:
  3. Cohen C. Thérèse Coffey’s views on abortion are deeply concerning and dangerous for women [Inter-net]. Evening Standard. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 10]. Available from:
  4. Wells I. Therese Coffey’s views on abortion con-cerning, charity says. BBC News [Internet]. 2022 Sep 7 [cited 2022 Sep 10]; Available from:
  5. Smith R, Blazeby J. Why religious belief should be declared as a competing interest. BMJ. 2018 Apr 12;361:k1456. Available from:
  6. Giubilini A, Savulescu J. Beyond Money: Conscientious Objection in Medicine as a Conflict of Interests. J Bioethical Inq [Internet]. 2020 May 12 [cited 2020 May 12];
    Available from: