UK woman fired for sharing abortion views with co-workers sues
LONDON, May 30, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A British Christian mental health worker who was fired for “gross professional misconduct” after discussing with colleagues the mental health problems faced by women who have had abortions, launched a human rights lawsuit against her former employer at England’s High Court on May 28.
Margaret Forrester, who is being represented by the Thomas Moore Legal Center, is claiming the Central & North West London Mental Health Trust violated her rights to free speech and religion.
Forrester, who is Roman Catholic, was a psychological wellbeing practitioner for the National Health Service. She was suspended in Nov. 2010 after she told colleagues in a private conversation she was concerned that women are not being given adequate information on the dangers of abortion to their long-term mental health.
She showed co-workers a booklet on post-abortion syndrome called “Forsaken – Women From Taunton Talk About Abortion” that featured the personal testimonies of women who have suffered negative effects following abortion.
Subsequently, Forrester was called into a meeting with her manager and questioned about her views. At first she was suspended from her job, but then the Trust changed her status to a special leave with pay, during which she was required to sit in an office and not work.
Following this, Forrester was given a different job with the NHS, which she eventually left due to stress. According to court papers cited by The Telegraph, Forrester’s lawyer describes this new position as a “punishment posting” that involved demeaning duties inappropriate for a professional with her skills and training.
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At a disciplinary hearing on December 22, 2010, Forrester was told that she could continue to work only if she never spoke of her beliefs about abortion again. She was told never to “give materials like this to colleagues at work.”
Claire Murdoch, chief executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement after the disciplinary hearing, “It is clear that the booklet Miss Forrester distributed offers a seriously unbalanced and one-sided view of abortion and that it is offensive to NHS staff.
“The booklet implies that abortion can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and increased risk of cancer. This could be very worrying and deeply offensive for women who may need an abortion and want balanced, sensible advice. We simply cannot allow NHS staff to distribute material that we know to be seriously unbalanced.”
Subsequently, Forrester commented, “The fact that you cannot have an informal discussion with a colleague in the interests of patient care seems unbelievable.”
“It was incredible that I was suspended in the first place, just because I expressed a personal opinion,” she said. “I should be able to express my opinion privately without fear and act freely in good conscience.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said following the Trust’s verdict that it was “staggering” that Forrester was being persecuted for her attempts to help patients.
“The level of intolerance in the public sphere, particularly in public sector employment, is deeply worrying and suggests that we are living in less and less of a free society,” Williams said.
“We cannot let this kind of intolerance go unchallenged.”
A spokesman for the Thomas Moore Legal Center told The Telegraph, “The attitude of the NHS in the Margaret Forrester case is not only harmful to its employees. By limiting free discussion of the experiences of patients who have had abortions or any other type of medical treatment the NHS is harming the interests of patients.”
“If Abortion is as problem-free as the NHS claims then there should be no objection to the subject being discussed amongst Health Service professionals,” the spokesman said. “If the NHS is not willing to allow the effects of abortion to be discussed by NHS staff it raises a real question as to what the NHS is afraid of.”
A spokesperson for the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust told the Telegraph, “The Trust thoroughly disputes these allegations and will continue to defend its position vigorously. We are confident that we will be able to successfully defend these claims.”
Forrester is also challenging her dismissal in a separate Employment Tribunal trial, which will begin with a court hearing on Oct. 8.