(Scotland) No Right to Conscientious Objection for Midwives
Country: United Kingdom
Date of incident: February 29, 2012
Category: Government Restrictions
Attack against: Morals
Area of case: Governmental
In January 2012, Scotland's largest health board was taken to court by two Catholic nurses from Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, who were denied conscientious objection with regard to abortion procedures. Judgment was handed down on February 29th: the midwives have been told that they must accept the decision of their hospital management and that they must oversee other midwives performing abortions. In January 2013, they took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The UK supreme court upheld the judgement in December 2014.The right of midwives to refuse to participate in abortions on the basis of their religious beliefs is explicitly protected by the 1967 Abortion Act and had historically been respected by the hospital. However, the hospital recently changed its stance by imposing an obligation on midwives to watch over, and sometimes assist, with late abortions, which were frequently being transferred from the gynecology department to the labour ward.
The midwives in the case argued that the hospital was asking them to be morally, medically and legally responsible for abortions. They argued that their legal right included not directing or assisting other midwives performing abortions and that this conflicted with their profound objection to abortions and with the right to opt-out that is protected in the 1967 Abortion Act.
Lady Smith, judge in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, ruled that the senior midwives’ role is not covered by the conscience clause in the Abortion Act. Lady Smith ruled that the 1967 abortion act only granted qualified conscience protections in relation to abortion. “The nature of their duties does not in fact require them to provide treatment to terminate pregnancies directly,” she said. “They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs.”
“The case is yet another example of the way in which the UK Courts are interpreting Art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Religion) in the most limited and restrictive way possible. The courts have not hesitated to use the convention to protect murderous terrorists but have refused to use it protect two midwives who do not want to kill unborn children.”
In January 2013, the midwives took the case to the Euroean Court of Human Rights.
In December 2014 the UK supreme court upheld the judgement. Read here an interesting commentary on this verdict by Care for Europe director Paul Moynan.