There’s an interesting discussion over at M* about how an LDS health-care worker ought to handle a request by a patient for an abortion. The issues are similar to those that arise when discussing how to treat conscientious objectors in wartime.
On the one hand, it is possible to argue that conscientious objectors should simply refrain from joining the organization in the first place. If you don’t want to go to war and shoot people, don’t join the army; if you don’t want to give referrals to abortion clinics, don’t be a nurse. This argument is based on a strong application of waiver — whatever moral objections an employee had towards some activity, she has waived them. It is a conceptually coherent argument, and would apply equally to both soldiers and health care professionals.
On the other hand, there is a strong argument to be made as well that society should respect the wishes of conscientious objectors. These are deeply held beliefs, and people should not be forced to act against their morals.
However, there is also the important question of timing. It is the conscientious objector’s responsibility to alert her employer ahead of time that she will not perform certain activities. Otherwise, she may end up in a situation where other people are depending on her to do those acts.
The wartime conscientious objector cannot wait until her platoon is in the thick of a firefight and her sergeant says “go attack that bunker,” to express her belief that she feels that killing in wartime is morally wrong and that she feels she cannot perform that act.
And the pharmacist or health care professional cannot wait until a patient says “I need an abortion” (or “I need birth control pills”) to make known her opposition to those acts. She must let her employer know her restrictions ahead of time, or she is shirking her own obligation.
There is a strong moral case to be made for respecting the deeply held beliefs of conscientious objectors. But the objector cannot avoid her own responsibility, which is to make her objections known before putting herself into a situation where others are depending on her to perform actions which she finds objectionable.