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Maternity centers reject midwife because she won’t assist abortions: midwife sues

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Ellinor Grimmark
Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark, who is Christian, was offered jobs at three different maternity centers, only to have them revoked on account of her pro-life views. FREDRIK PERSSON / TT

A Swedish midwife is suing in local court after being denied employment at three separate maternity centers because she is unwilling to assist with abortions.

Traditionally, the job of a midwife is to bring life into the world by assisting mothers in labor deliver their babies.  But in Sweden, which has the highest abortion rate of any Nordic nation, and where abortions are provided by the government free upon request until 18 weeks of pregnancy, midwives are often called upon to assist with abortions, too.

Midwife Ellinor Grimmark, who is Christian, was offered a job at Höglandssjukhuset women's clinic in Eksjö, southern Sweden after completing an internship there in 2013.  She gratefully accepted the job offer, but reminded them that she could not perform abortions due to her strongly held belief that life begins at conception.  That was a dealbreaker for her would-be boss, the head of the maternity ward, who called and left her a voicemail saying that "she was no longer welcome to work with them" and questioning "whether a person with [pro-life] views actually can become a midwife."

Grimmark then sought a job with Ryhovs women's clinic.  Hiring officials there told her the same thing: Anyone who refuses to perform abortions has no business working as a midwife in Sweden.

Grimmark was soon offered a job at Värnamo Hospital's women's clinic, but they, too, revoked their offer after she filed a civil rights complaint against the Höglandssjukhuset clinic with the local Equality Ombudsman.

When the ombudsman ruled that Grimmark was not being discriminated against for her pro-life views, Grimmark escalated the complaint, filing suit in the Jönköping district court with the help of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.  She is seeking 80,000 Swedish kronas (USD $11,655) in compensation for damages and 60,000 Swedish kronas (USD $8,740) in compensation for discrimination.

Meanwhile, she has reportedly taken a job in neighboring Norway, where human rights laws protect medical professionals from being forced to participate in procedures they consider immoral.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a U.S. legal defense organization dedicated to protecting religious rights, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the Jönköping district court.

“No one deserves to be denied a job simply because she is pro-life,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska. “International laws to which Sweden is obligated recognize freedom of conscience and make clear that being pro-abortion cannot be a requirement for employment, nor can medical facilities force nurses and midwives with a conscience objection to assist with practices that can lead to an abortion.”

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Kiska wrote in the ADF brief that Grimmark’s situation “is representative of an emerging human rights problem in Sweden regarding failure to recognize rights of conscientious objection.”

"The dismissal of midwife Grimmark is a troubling development stemming from Sweden being out of step with the rest of Europe,” the brief continues.  “Such a blatant disregard for rights of conscience cannot be allowed to stand in Sweden. A state must seek to accommodate religious and moral beliefs no matter how irksome it finds them.”

According to Kiska’s brief, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has affirmed that “no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”

The brief also states: “The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has itself explicitly affirmed rights of conscience for sincerely held religious and moral beliefs as falling within the gambit of Article 9 of the Convention.”

“Willingness to commit an abortion cannot be a litmus test for employment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Coleman. “Medical centers need to respect the desire and conviction of a midwife or nurse to protect life – a desire that very likely led her to pursue the profession in the first place.”

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