Midwives lose fight for conscientious objection to abortion

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The Supreme Court has rejected the opportunity to uphold the right of conscientious objection for senior midwives who refuse to supervise abortions performed on a labour ward. Today’s decision issued in the Supreme Court has been condemned by those who backed the Glasgow midwives’ fight for their right to work in the NHS without being involved in abortions.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) which paid the midwives’ legal expenses throughout the case has said that senior midwives who refuse to kill babies could be forced to leave the profession.

Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, the midwives in the case, commented on the judgment:

“We are both saddened and extremely disappointed with today’s verdict from the Supreme Court and can only imagine the subsequent detrimental consequences that will result from today’s decision on staff of conscience throughout the UK.

“Despite it having been recognised that the number of abortions on the labour ward at our hospital is in fact a tiny percentage of the workload, which in turn could allow the accommodation of conscientious objection with minimal effort, this judgment, with its constraints and narrow interpretation, has resulted in the provision of a conscience clause which now in practice is meaningless for senior midwives on a labour ward.”

Paul Tully, general secretary of SPUC said:

“The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children acknowledges the great debt that the whole pro-life community owes to Mary Doogan and Connie Wood for fighting this battle over the past seven years. They have fought not only for their own careers, but for all current and future members of the profession who uphold the right to life of everyone, from the time of conception, without discrimination. We are bitterly disappointed for them.

“Today’s decision sadly makes it likely that senior midwives who refuse to kill babies will be forced to leave the profession. Junior midwives might still be able to work in labour wards where abortions are performed but they will be restricted to ‘staff midwife’ status at best.  They could easily be placed in an impossible situation by pro-abortion superiors, and would be unable to receive promotion to a more senior role without fear of being required to violate their consciences.  This will affect anyone who objects to abortion, of any religion or none.  It will create a second-class status in midwifery for those who only deliver babies and don’t kill them.

“Furthermore, the court has used the opportunity of this case to decide that the conscience clause in the Abortion Act does not apply to General Practitioners and that hospital doctors asked to prescribe abortion drugs will not be covered by the conscience clause.  We anticipate that this will lead to renewed efforts by health officials to force doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion either to compromise their respect for human life or to leave the profession.  SPUC will support and encourage doctors to resist any such bullying approach.

“The pro-abortion lobby has long argued that conscientious objectors should be required to refer women seeking legal abortion to other practitioners.  Bodies such as the Department of Health have qualified this by saying that this only applies when the statutory grounds for a legal abortion apply, but the Supreme Court has said that any medical professional who refuses to provide an abortion should arrange for a referral to someone else who will do so. This seems to go far beyond the scope of the Abortion Act, and furthermore is not even an issue there was any need for the Court to decide in this case.

“The Court has nevertheless said that midwives and doctors with conscientious objections are obliged to refer abortion patients to colleagues who don’t object to abortion.  This goes further than the General Medical Council, for instance, whose current guidance Personal Belief and Medical Practice says that doctors should refer patients to another doctor, but does not require them to check their colleague’s pro-abortion credentials.”

Further information:

SPUC: 020 7091 7091

Paul Tully: 020 7820 3127, 07939 178719

Anthony McCarthy: 07883 107358

John Smeaton: 07885 914 344

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  • Julia Gibson

    I have just heard the news about the midwives’ case and I am very dismayed at the morals of the justice system in this country. I wish Mary and Connie all the best for the future, and hope they can accept that they did the very best they could with this issue. Well done SPUC for fighting their corner. Keep up the good fight!

  • Aeneas9

    Take the fight to ECHR?

    The Supreme Court and Europe

    Relationship with the European Court of Human Rights

    Before the Human Rights Act was passed by Parliament in 1998 it was not possible for an individual in the UK to challenge a decision of a public authority on the grounds that it violated his or her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), within the courts of the UK. Individuals instead had to take their case directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR).

    Once the Act came into force on 2 October 2000, individuals could claim a remedy for breaches of their Convention rights in the UK courts. An individual who thinks that his or her Convention rights have not been respected by a decision of a UK court may still bring a claim before the ECtHR, but they must first try their appeal in the UK courts.

    It is the duty of all such courts, including the UK Supreme Court, to interpret all existing legislation so that it is compatible with the ECHR; so far as it is possible to do so. If the court decides it is not possible to interpret legislation so that it is compatible with the Convention it will issue a ‘declaration of incompatibility’.

    Although a declaration of incompatibility does not place any legal obligation on the government to amend or repeal legislation, it sends a clear message to legislators that they should change the law to make it compatible with the human rights set out in the Convention. In giving effect to rights contained in the ECHR the Court must take account of any decision of the ECtHR in Strasbourg. No national court should “without strong reason dilute or weaken the effect of the Strasbourg case law” (Lord Bingham of Cornhill in R (Ullah) v Special Adjudicator [2004] UKHL 26).

  • Bert Sinclair

    I have certainly no desire to be anywhere near these judges on the day of judgement when they will be judged.they certainly are the mouthpieces of their political paymasters.

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