Midwives defend their right to opt-out of participating in abortions
10 November 2014
Two senior midwives from Glasgow are going to the Supreme Court to defend their right to work as midwives while not being involved in abortions on the labour ward where they have been employed as Labour Ward Co-ordinators. The case will be heard on Tuesday 11 November.
Mary Doogan and Connie Wood are senior midwives. Between them they have helped to deliver around 10,000 babies over the past 25 years.
Like a number of healthcare workers, Mary and Connie believe abortion is wrong, and they previously exercised their statutory right to opt out of abortion procedures. These have grown over the years to around 1% of the cases on the labour ward at their hospital. Labour ward abortions are mostly late-term abortions carried out because the unborn baby is diagnosed with a disability.
Mary and Connie are defending the right to conscientious objection recognised in section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967:
"no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection;"
The right of conscientious objection applies equally to people of all faiths and of none who oppose abortion for moral or ethical reasons.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) www.spuc.org.uk has funded Connie and Mary's legal representation throughout the case. We are grateful that the generosity of our donors has enabled us to support them in their courageous stand in defence of midwives' rights of conscience.
History of the case
The dispute originated in changes of practice and workload in the labour ward of Glasgow's Southern General Hospital from 2007 and earlier, which led to senior midwives such as Mary and Connie being told to delegate, supervise and support staff midwives in carrying out abortions. This prompted a formal grievance process which ran from 2009-2011. The Health Board rejected Connie and Mary's request for their conscientious objection to be respected, and the midwives then sought judicial review.
The Outer House of the Court of Session found against the midwives in 2012, but this decision was reversed on appeal by the Inner House in 2013. The Health Board then appealed to the Supreme Court, and the case is being heard on 11 November 2014.
Observers and legal commentators may ask why the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has not applied to intervene in this case, especially as pro-abortion groups have done so. (SPUC is not a party to this case, it is simply providing the funding to enable Connie and Mary to fight it.) When the private abortion clinic chain BPAS, jointly with the midwifery association the RCM, applied to intervene in the hearing to raise arguments concerning a 'right to abortion', we decided against seeking to intervene ourselves.
For many years pro-abortion groups and governments have been seeking to claim abortion as a 'human right' at the UN and other international forums. They have not achieved this aim, and SPUC has been part of the international coalition of pro-life, pro-family groups which has been opposing efforts to create a right to abortion for over 20 years.
We decided against seeking to address the court in response to the BPAS/RCM intervention because the issues it raises are not relevant to the central point in this case – the point over which the Health Board is in dispute with Connie and Mary. This case is about Connie and Mary and the proper interpretation of their legally-protected right of conscientious objection, and we did not want to compound the risk that the other issues introduced by the interveners might eclipse that core point.
SPUC will of course continue to be intensively engaged in arguing at the UN and other forums that the right to life of all children, regardless of birth, is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the foundational document of the UN) and many other UN documents.
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