British court rules Catholic midwives can be forced to participate in abortions
EDINBURGH, U.K., February 29, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Judgment was handed down today in the case of two senior midwives from Glasgow who have a conscientious objection to abortion. The midwives have been told that they must accept the decision of their hospital management that they must oversee other midwives performing abortions on the labour ward.
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.
Both the midwives have served for over 20 years at the Southern General Hospital, caring for many thousands of mothers and babies. The case arose when the hospital demanded that all senior midwives must take responsibility for overseeing mid-term and late term abortions. Since 2008 the hospital has insisted that these abortions, mostly for suspected disability in the foetus, must be conducted on the labour ward, rather than the gynaecology ward where most early abortions are performed.
The midwives in the case, Miss Mary Doogan and Mrs Connie Wood, argued that they had never been required to supervise abortion procedures in the past, and that the hospital was asking them to be morally, medically and legally responsible for abortions. They argued that this conflicted with their profound objection to abortions and with the right to opt-out that is protected in the 1967 Abortion Act.
Commenting on the judgment, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said: “We are very disappointed by the judgment. SPUC has supported the midwives in bringing their case, and will now be considering their further legal options with them.”
Neil Addison, the director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, noted, “The case is yet another example of the way in which the UK Courts are interpreting s9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Religion) in the most limited and restrictive way possible.” Addison continued, “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.”
Speaking on behalf of both herself and the other midwife in the case, Doogan said, “Connie and I are both very disappointed and greatly saddened by today’s verdict. For most of our 20-plus years of employment as midwifery sisters at the Southern General Hospital we have been proud to be associated with a maternity unit in which the right of all midwifery staff to freedom of conscience has been acknowledged, protected and upheld with no detrimental outcome to any mother whatsoever.”
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.”
Addison criticized “the extremely restrictive interpretation the judge has put on the Conscientious Objection clause in s4 of the Abortion Act.” The interpretation, he said, is such that “believing Catholics, Muslims and others will never be able to take any form of supervisory or management role as midwives or nurses unless they are prepared to be complicit in the provision of abortions.”