South Africa Appeals Court Hears Nurse’s Abortion Conscience Clause Suit

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 25, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Africa Appeals Court Hears Nurse’s Abortion Conscience Clause Suit Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 25
, 2007

Johannesburg, South Africa ( — A South African nurse who faced discrimination for refusing to do abortions had her case heard at an appeals court Friday. The woman filed suit in August 2004 after refusing a hospital’s orders to participate in abortions.

Sister Wilhelmien Charles has since become the face of those in the medical community who don’t want to do abortions.

Charles sued the Hospital in Vereeniging because she did not want to be required to do abortions. The suit, filed against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the Gauteng hospital seeks immediate reinstatement, 50,000 Rand (over $7,400 U.S. dollars), and unconditional apology.

On Friday, the Labour Appeals Court in Braamfontein, head the case but presiding Judge Dennis Davis referred her case to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Judge Davis did promise Sister Charles that if the CCMA didn’t resolve her situation quickly that he would welcome her return to his court to continue the lawsuit.

Charles spoke to the court before the decision was handed down, according to an Independent Online news report.

"It’s not about the money. It’s the damage. No one knows the nature of the trauma that we go through," she said of the case and being forced to be involved in abortions.

"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," she added.

The pro-life group Doctors for Life has been assisting Charles in the case and he told the Independent newspaper that they would see what happens at the CCMA before making a decision on what to do next.

"It has been a long struggle, but it’s definitely not over. We will continue until we get clarity on whether nurses have the freedom to follow their constitutional rights," he said.

"As a health organization, 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," he added.

Charles was forced to aid in doing abortions two times by the hospital but on the third occasion she refused and said her Christian beliefs compelled her to not be involved.

The case had languished for over two years in courts until September of last year when a lower court sent the case to a three judge panel of the appeals court.

Sibani Mngadi, a health department official, previously said that in emergency situations, health care workers are required to participate in abortions.

"But under normal circumstances where services rendered to a stable patient, then arrangements can be made for that health professional to work in a different section and not to participate that," Mngadi said.

Charles now works at Vereeniging Medi Clinic where she says she is not forced to participate in abortions.

Last year, the Constitutional Court in South Africa invalidated two bills including one that allows nurses to do abortions. Doctors for Life challenged the laws saying the nation’s parliament had not allowed enough public participation before adopting the legislation.

Parliament now has 18 months to give public input and re-approve the bills.

Related web sites:
Doctors for Life International-