The General Medical Council has issued guidance warning that it would be “discriminatory” for doctors not to prescribe either the pill or morning-after pill because they disagree with people having sex before marriage.
The draft GMC guidelines, entitled Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice, stipulate that doctors “cannot be willing to provide married women with contraception but unwilling to prescribe it for unmarried women”.
“This would be a breach of our guidance as you would be refusing to treat a particular group of patients,” the document adds.
It also warns it would be illegal for doctors to refuse to carry out “gender reassignment”, because it would also amount to discrimination.
“Serious or persistent failure to follow this guidance will put your registration at risk,” the guidelines warn.
Bishop Tom Williams of the Archdiocese of Liverpool claimed the advice discriminated against “certain groups of doctors” and risked creating an “atmosphere of fear” in which doctors would be “prohibited from ever expressing their own religion”.
Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship and a former surgeon, said the rules would “marginalise Christian health professionals in Britain”.
He told the Daily Mail: “The problem is that 21st century British medicine now involves practices which many doctors regard as unethical.”
Doctors can refuse to carry out some treatments on ethical grounds, such as abortions. The guidelines say they must always ensure patients are referred on to a colleague who is willing to do the procedure.
A final version of the guidelines is expected to be published later this year.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: "'We know that personal beliefs are central to the lives of many doctors and patients. Our draft guidance seeks to balance doctors desire to practise medicine in line with their own personal beliefs, whilst ensuring that they are providing patients access to appropriate medical treatment and services."