In a horrible defeat for conscience rights for medical professionals, a British court today ruled that a pair of midwives who didn’t want to be involved in assisting abortions must do so.
Midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood won a lower court decision last year but the UK’s Supreme Court heard an appeal brought by the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which is supported by the pro-abortion British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and the Royal College of Midwives.
The midwives, with more than 20 years’ experience, initially lost their cases against their employers in the Outer House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2012. However that decision was overturned in 2013 by the Court’s Inner House, which judged the midwives were legally allowed to refrain from delegating to, supervising and supporting colleagues involved in abortion care on their wards.
The dispute arose when Doogan’s and Wood’s employers reorganized abortion services in 2007. Mid-term and late-term abortions would be performed on the labor ward rather than on the gynecology ward and the midwives were told they had to oversee abortion procedures.
Central to Doogan’s and Wood’s defense was that previously they were not called on to delegate, supervise or support staff engaged in the care of patients undergoing abortions.
But today 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.
“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,” the midwives said after the decision.
They added: “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.”
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.
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.”
He told LifeNews: “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.”
Tully continued: “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-life advocate concluded: “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 Abortion Act of 1967 states that no one with a conscientious objection can be obliged to participate in abortion procedures. “However, the hospital management insisted that a conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act applied only to active participation in a termination and did not cover the women’s duties to delegate, supervise and support staff.
“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,” Tully said.