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British Midwives Obliged to Support Abortions, Supreme Court Rules

Midwives posing with babies

Erling A

Greg Daly - published on 12/19/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Bishop says establishment has become an oppressor of basic freedoms in the name of being pro-choice.

Britain’s Supreme Court has rejected the case of two Scottish midwives who refused to be involved with abortion procedures, following an appeal from National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde against last year’s Court of Session ruling that the “right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole process of treatment given for that purpose.”

Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan were experienced midwives working as labor ward coordinators at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, which since 2010 has seen about 6,000 births each year. There have been just under 60 abortions in the hospital’s labor wards each year since 2010, following changes introduced in 2007 and 2010. The two midwives’ unwillingness to supervise and coordinate the performance of such abortions set in motion the series of court cases that led to Wednesday’s decision.

The Catholic Herald reports that Wood and Doogan have said they are “both saddened and extremely disappointed” by the Supreme Court decision, 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 recognized,” they continued, “that the number of abortions on the labor 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 labor ward.”

Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which has paid Wood and Doogan’s legal expenses, told Aleteia that, “Connie and Mary are deeply disappointed with the outcome, and they feel that it’s a result which fails to acknowledge the fundamental importance of the right of conscientious objection and the protection of that right which is afforded by the British Statute — the 1967 Abortion Act.”

Under the terms of section 4(1) of the Abortion Act, “no person shall be under any duty whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement to participate in any treatment authorized by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.” Wood and Doogan have consistently maintained that the coordination and support of abortions constitute participation in treatment, and last year the Court of Session agreed.

“With immediate relevance to Connie and Mary’s situation,” says Tully, the Supreme Court’s decision means “that they are not entitled to the protection of their employment status if they refuse to supervise abortion procedures being undertaken by other people on the labor ward where they work.”

Tully says that until recently the hospital had recognized that Wood and Doogan were entitled to opt out of any abortions that took place in their hospital’s labor ward. As senior midwives who have the role of labor ward coordinator, their job had  entailed making bookings, designating other more junior midwives to look after specific women, and engaging during the care of women on the ward in supporting, advising, and standing in for colleagues for periods during the care of women in the ward.

“In abortion cases,” he explained, “that would mean having extensive hands on involvement with those patients as well as being involved extensively in ways that would morally compromise them. And what the ruling does is to say that Mary and Connie can only opt out of the actual hands-on involvement in the abortion itself.”

Peter D. Williams, executive officer of Right to Life, says that by interpreting the "participation" referred to in section 4 of the Abortion Act as simply being the surgical or medical procedure of abortion, the Supreme Court has chosen to violate the conscience rights of Catholic midwives.

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AbortionScotlandUnited Kingdom
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