By Hilary White

PRETORIA, June 25, 2007 ( – A South African nurse, who in 2004 had been banned from the operating room because of her opposition to abortion, has had her case referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The CCMA is an independent juristic body established after apartheid to settle disputes using consensus and arbitration.

Sister Wilhelmien Charles filed suit three years ago when the hospital she worked in as a senior nurse barred her from working when she objected to abortion on religious grounds. Her case was heard this week by the Labour Appeals Court in Braamfontein. Recent legislation made it legal for nurses to commit abortions but there are no clear conscience guidelines for opting out of performing of the procedure. 
“It’s not about the money. It’s the damage,” Charles said. “No one knows the nature of the trauma that we go through. I speak for a lot of nurses who feel the way I do about not wanting to perform abortions, and we still don’t know clearly whether we have the right to say no.”

Presiding Judge Dennis Davis urged the government to issue clear guidelines on nurses’ rights.
  Doctors for Life International (DFL) filed a brief three years ago on behalf of Sister Charles, naming the Kopanong hospital and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

DFL spokesman John Smyth QC said when the legal proceedings were instigated, that although “a large number of staff sent a petition saying they did not want to do abortions, [Charles] is the only one being discriminated against.” An earlier letter writing campaign failed to elicit any response from the hospital or the health ministry.

Smyth said the struggle is not over. “We will continue until we get clarity on whether nurses have the freedom to follow their constitutional rights. As a health organisation, Doctors For Life are aware of tens of thousands of health professionals all over the country who face pressure and intimidation to do abortions contrary to their beliefs.”

Read previous coverage:
  Nurse in South Africa Barred from Operating Room for Refusing to Commit Abortions

Forced to Assist in Abortion, Nurse Sues South African Government


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