The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) welcomed today’s verdict in the appeal by two Glasgow midwives fighting for their right to opt out of abortion.
Connie Wood and Mary Doogan, who won their appeal against the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, are senior midwives each with more than 20 years’ experience and had the role of Labour Ward Co-ordinators. (See further below for a statement by the midwives today.)
SPUC has given the midwives its backing throughout the case. Responding to the judgment, Paul Tully, SPUC’s general secretary, said: “Today’s verdict is very welcome and we congratulate Connie and Mary on their tenacity and deep sense of professionalism. We hope that the Health Board will abide by this verdict and enable life to return to normal for Connie and Mary. The result is a tremendous victory for these devoted and caring professional women. This outcome will be a great relief to all midwives, nurses and doctors who may be under pressure to supervise abortion procedures and who are wondering whether the law protects their right to opt out.
Mr Tully continued: “The difference this judgment makes is that hospital managers must recognise that the legal right to opt out of abortion goes beyond those who directly undertake abortions. For the sake of good morale and good relations with all members of staff, it is important that the Board move to re-establish normal working relations straight away. The mothers and babies depending on the Southern General Hospital deserve no less.
“Mary Doogan and Connie Wood deserve the fullest support and gratitude of their medical colleagues for resisting the pressure to give up their legal protections. It is important to recognise that their stand applies to people of all faiths and none: the right to refuse to participate in abortion is based on conscientious objection, whether religious or purely moral, so it applies to everyone”, said Mr Tully.
“They are anxious to get back to normal after the protracted internal grievance procedure and legal action. This dispute has seriously disrupted their professional lives over the past 4 years and more”, concluded Mr Tully.
Statement by Connie Wood and Mary Doogan:
“Connie and I are absolutely delighted with todays judgement from the Court of Session, which recognises and upholds our rights as labour ward midwifery sisters to withdraw from participating in any treatment that would result in medical termination of pregnancy.
In holding all life to be sacred from conception to natural death, as midwives we have always worked in the knowledge we have two lives to care for throughout labour; a mother and that of her unborn child.
Today’s judgement is a welcome affirmation of the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would violate their conscience and which over time, would indeed debar many from entering what has always been a very rewarding and noble profession. It is with great relief we can now return to considerations that are all to do with child birth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters.
Lastly, we wish to thank the many individuals the length and breadth of Britain and, indeed, further afield, who have given us great help and support throughout the duration of our dispute with GG&CHB. Though too numerous to individually highlight, special mention has to be given to both sets of family, without whose support we could not have taken on this case, to SPUC and to our very talented legal team whose expertise and support we could not have done without. Thank you to each and everyone.”
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Background to the case:
Midwives employed at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital as Labour Ward Co-ordinators (LWCs) were told that they had to oversee abortion procedures when the hospital reorganised abortion services, transferring late abortion patients to the labour ward rather than the gynaecology ward.
Previously midwives who opposed abortion on grounds of conscience had always been allowed to opt out of any involvement under the conscience clause in the Abortion Act, which recognises the right not to participate in abortion treatment.
The Court of Session heard arguments about whether midwives in the role of LWC are entitled to opt out of delegating and supervising abortions in which staff midwives are providing most of the hands-on treatment, with LWCs as the first line of back-up.