TORONTO - The debate over Ontario doctors' right to refuse to provide medical services that clash with their moral or religious beliefs is headed to court.

A group of five doctors and three professional organizations is challenging a policy issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that requires doctors who have a moral objection to the treatment sought by a patient to refer them to another medical professional who can provide the service.

The group - which includes the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies and Canadian Physicians for Life - says the policy contravenes doctors' right to freedom of religion and conscience under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It wants the court to immediately strike down the part of the policy that requires a referral “made in good faith, to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician, other health-care professional or agency.”

The college, meanwhile, argues the two-year-old policy is meant to prevent harm to the public and ensure access to care while recognizing that individual doctors may be morally opposed to some treatments and procedures.

It says compelling doctors to refer patients seeking an abortion, contraception or medically assisted death - services among those deemed problematic by the group - to another doctor is not the same as forcing them to participate in that particular treatment.