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European Court refuses midwives’ conscientious objection case

The European Court of Human Rights has declined to hear the case of two Swedish midwives repeatedly denied jobs because of their refusal to perform abortions.

Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen had hoped to challenge authorities in Sweden, telling the court that being denied employment due to their pro-life views was an illegal breach of their rights to freedom of conscience.

Both had initially worked as nurses but retrained as midwives amid a severe shortage, receiving state funding to do so.

However, due to their pro-life views, job offers were withdrawn with one hospital stating it could provide Ellinor with counselling aimed at reconciling her “obstinate mind” with the good of abortion.

The head of the maternity ward at another hospital questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife”.

After exhausting legal options in Sweden, Ellinor and Linda had hoped the European Court of Human Rights would provide them and other pro-life midwives with a ruling that’d allow them to safely deliver babies without also having to abort them.  

But, in a short written decision, the court said their case was inadmissible and that freedom of conscience shouldn’t prevent the provision of abortion.

The judges’ decision on the case admitted there had been “an interference with her freedom of conscience,” but added that “the interference with the applicant’s freedom of religion was proportionate and justified with the view of achieving a legitimate aim…”

“Sweden provides nationwide abortion services and therefore has a positive obligation to organise its health system in a way as to ensure that the effective exercise of freedom of conscience of health professionals in the professional context does not prevent the provision of such services,” it added.

Now that it has dismissed their case, Ellinor and Linda cannot appeal again to the court. Its decision will negatively impact midwives across 47 Council of Europe Member States who could now be compelled to participate in abortions if they want to deliver babies.

Ellinor, who has been fighting pursuing the case for four years, said: “I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same.”

The Swedish Association of Midwives has defended the authorities’ right to refuse pro-life midwives work, suggesting any change would have consequences for the whole Swedish health care system.

Speaking to the BBC, President Mia Ahlberg said: “For example, a nurse who is a Jehovah’s Witness might refuse to perform a blood transfusion. It’s part of our professional competence – so the employer had a right to say ‘you cannot work here’.”

Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International who were helping the midwives pursue the case, called the court decision “very disappointing”. “Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers,” he said.

In 2014, the UK’s highest court ruled two midwives do not have the right to avoid supervising other nurses involved in abortion procedures.

The landmark judgement by the five Supreme Court justices rejected the view that the right of conscience extended to the whole process of abortion, instead ruling that conscientious objection only applies where an individual is “taking part in a hands-on capacity”.

Last year, it was revealed pro-life medical students who want to protect unborn babies from terminations could be forced to learn ‘abortion skills’ under new proposals.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists released a new report announcing its intention to teach and assess ‘abortion skills’ as part of its core curriculum but made no mention of any provision for conscientious objection.

In its Better for Women report, the College says “the General Medical Council (GMC) should review the Undergraduate medical curriculum to include the importance of abortion care to students.

“The RCOG will teach abortion skills as a part of its core curriculum and assess those skills through examination.”

Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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Dear reader

In 2020, the UK Government imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which included a provision that legalised abortion right up to birth for disabilties including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

A new Bill has been launched at the Northern Ireland assembly that will remove the current provision that allows abortion for ‘severe fetal impairment’.

It is under these grounds in the regulations that babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can currently be singled out for abortion in Northern Ireland because of their disability and can be aborted right up to birth.

Before the new abortion regime was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, disability-selective abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot was not legal and there was a culture of welcoming and supporting people with these disabilities rather than eliminating them.

This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while there were 52 children born with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. 

This contrasts with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom where disability-selective abortion has been legal since 1967.

The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

We are, therefore, asking people like you to take 30 seconds of your time and add your support to the campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.

If you live in Northern Ireland: 
Ask your MLAs to vote to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot:

If you live outside Northern Ireland: 
Show your support by signing this petition in support of the Bill:

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Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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