LONDON, April 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Catholic nurse in the UK has won her case in a dispute with her employer, an NHS trust in the Midlands, that was demanding she work in an abortion facility. The Catholic Herald reports that the woman, who has not been named publicly, was being required to work in a “Termination of Pregnancy clinic” attached to the hospital, and had cited the Abortion Act itself as her defence.

Legal experts defending the rights of conscientiously objecting health care workers facing abortion-related disputes have pointed out that the Abortion Act contains a clause allowing religiously motivated opt-outs. The Conscientious Objection clause in s4(1) of the Act says, “no person shall be under any duty whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.”

The issue at hand, said Neil Addison, a leading British expert in religious discrimination law, is that such cases revolve around “the question of what ‘participate in any treatment’ actually meant.”

Addison, who represented the nurse, told the Herald that he had informed the trust in a letter that the nurse’s “conviction that human life began from conception was a ‘philosophical’ and religious belief protected by the 2010 Equality Act and also by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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He warned the trust that they would face charges of harassment or discrimination should they attempt coercion by threatening the nurse’s future career prospects. The nurse had increased the number of hours she was to work from 15 per week to 30, and said she had not been informed that part of these would be in the hospital’s abortion facility. She informed her employers that she could not in good conscience fulfill her duties there. But the hospital threatened her with the sack if she did not comply.

The Herald quotes her saying, “It is a form of killing, to be honest. That’s how I view it.”

“I’m not being judgmental about people. I know there are cases of rape and all sorts of reasons why people do it to end the life of their child, because some way or another they are in a predicament and they see no way out, I suppose, but I just don’t want to participate in it.”

Upon taking legal advice, the Trust backed down and dropped the matter.

Addison noted that even atheists may be protected by the Conscience Clause, which looks at both religious and philosophical belief as the grounds for conscientious objection. “An atheist who believes, as many do, that the unborn child is human is entitled to rely on s4(1) just as much as a religious person,” he commented.

The situation faced by Catholics or other conscientious objectors to abortion or other unethical, but common, medical practices in British hospitals is growing increasingly tenuous. Some medical observers are warning that the bias in favour of abortion as a standard medical treatment is so strong that conscientious objectors are being faced with the stark choice of leaving either their profession or their country. It also means that patients are faced with severe limitations when seeking treatment from professionals who do not participate in abortion or hold that it is acceptable.

Dr. Robert Walley, a Catholic obstetrician, emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and founder of Matercare International, told LifeSiteNews.com at a 2008 conference in Rome that he was himself forced out of Britain by the impossible demand that he participate in abortions.

“I was told I had to do the abortions, or I could quit the specialty, or I could leave the country. So I left the country,” he said. This is the same threat being made to obstetrics practitioners around the world, “You can do the abortions or leave the profession.”

Recently an effort to address “the problem of unregulated use of conscientious objection” at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was brought forward by British MEP, Christine McCafferty. The motion to “regulate” conscience was narrowly defeated in a vote of 56 to 51, and the PACE strongly reiterated the rights of conscience in new wording. But rights activists warn that this will not be the last time the threat is made.

Neil Addison said that in Britain, conscience rights are not even protected by citing Article 9, the religious freedom article of the European Convention on Human Rights. Judges in Britain have already rendered Article 9 “virtually meaningless” in cases of health care surrounding the practice of abortion. 

“The view of the Courts is that if your job in any respects interferes with your religious belief then you have to get another job and you cannot rely on Article 9 to help you.

“Of course if you are a murderous terrorist or an illegal immigrant who has committed a crime for which you should be deported then the Human Rights Act will protect you to the end but if you are an ordinary person who wants to wear a crucifix or, in this case, refuse to take the life of an unborn child then the Human Rights Act will do nothing for you.”