On February 9, 2017, a Norwegian court ruled against Katarzyna Jachimowicz, a Polish Catholic doctor who sued after she was fired for refusing to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs). Jachimowicz v. the Municipality of Sauherad was the first case in Norway in which a medical professional sued over conscience rights.
The district judge explained that the government has no desire to protect conscience in this case any further than absolutely necessary according to the European Convention on Human Rights. It simply prioritized the interest of women in accordance with “traditional Norwegian values.”
In its ruling, the judge quoted the 2013 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which held that a person working as a registrar for civil partnership could be dismissed for refusing to register same-sex marriages. This was a case involving Lillian Ladele (Ladele v. London Borough of Islington), which appeared in the ECHR as Eweida et al. v the United Kingdom.
The Norwegian court explained in its verdict that it saw Jachimowicz’s actions as a form of discrimination against women. The court wrote that because of anatomical differences “men will not … have to go to a doctor other than their GP due to the doctor’s conscientious objection related to this type of reproductive preventive medical treatment.”
In 2010, Jachimowicz started working at the Family Clinic in the rural Norwegian municipality of Sauherad. The country has a taxpayer-funded healthcare system and a shortage of medical professionals, especially outside the cities, and therefore depends on foreign doctors. Jachimowicz did not learn how to insert IUDs in Poland, and could have claimed lack of training, but she did not want to use this loophole. Because she remained faithful to her religion and conscience, she was dismissed, ending four years of work and the patient-doctor relationships she’d forged in that time. Her lawyer explained that other doctors at the same clinic where Jachimowicz worked did not insert IUDs since there were too few patients requesting it. The doctors preferred to refer them to a gynecologist working at a hospital situated a 50-minute drive away.
“The municipality had not found it necessary to impose on any or all of the doctors to practice the insertion,” Bleken said. Jachimowicz felt her rights were violated and that her dismissal was illegal. She decided to fight the injustice with the European Convention on Human Rights. Citing articles 9 and 14 of the Convention, she went to court. In the final ruling last week, the court did express some doubts about whether the government went too far in its actions and suggested possible recourse with the ECHR. Because of the court’s uncertainty with the judgment, Jachimowicz does not have to pay the legal fees, as is customary for the losing party.
The ruling was appealed and in November 2017, an appellate court reversed the decision, finding that the doctor’s conscience rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been infringed.