JOHANNESBURG, August 24, 2004 ( – A nurse has begun legal proceedings after being denied access to work in an operating room for refusing to commit abortions. Although the South African parliament made abortions committed by nurses legal only on Thursday, the practice has presumably been ongoing for some time.  The legal brief, filed by Doctors for Life International (DFL) on behalf of Sister Wilhelmien Charles, named the Kopanong hospital and South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. DFL and sister Charles initiated the suit after receiving no answers from a letter writing campaign that began last spring. DFL provides “legal assistance to help [medical] professionals who refuse on moral/ethical grounds to take part in any aspect of the abortion process,” according to their web-site.

“We’ve been writing to the hospital for several months but they do not give us the courtesy of a reply,” DFL spokesman John Smyth told the Daily Dispatch news. Sister Charles has not been allowed to work in the operating theatre since May 2. “Eventually we decided to institute legal proceedings.”“The hospital started committing abortions in 2000 and at that time a large number of staff sent a petition saying they did not want to do abortions,” Smyth said. “She is the only one being discriminated against.” Sister Charles is a senior nurse who has been on staff at the hospital since 1997.  Charles is seeking approximately $10,000 CAD in damages and an apology, as well as the assurance that the Health Department cease from discriminating against workers for moral and religious reasons.  A statement from the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, issued shortly before the vote to allow nurses to commit abortions in South Africa, decried the bill in no uncertain terms. In the name of the Catholic Church, the bishops called on all catholic medical personnel to “insist on their constitutional rights, respecting their freedom of conscience and to refuse to cooperate in the performance of abortions.”  Read local coverage:   See Thursday’s related coverage:  South African Parliament Passes Permissive Abortion Law   tv