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However, due to their pro-life views, job offers were withdrawn with one hospital stating it could provide Ellinor with counselling aimed at reconciling her “obstinate mind” with the good of abortion.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

Pharmacist taken to court over refusal to sell ‘morning-after pill’ has conscience rights protected by German court

A pharmacist who was taken to court because he did not wish to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ has had his conscience rights upheld by a German court. 

Andreas K. owned and operated a pharmacy in Berlin which neither stocked nor sold the ‘morning-after pill’. 

However, not long before his retirement in 2018, Andreas was reported to the Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber over his desire to not sell the pill.

The chamber, which has a compulsory membership for every pharmacist in the state, then proceeded to initiate legal proceedings against Andreas at the Administrative Court of Berlin. 

In an encouraging ruling, the German court upheld the pharmacists right to act in accordance with his conscience. 

According to ADF International, who provided legal support to Andreas’ lawyer, the German court stated that the pharmacist had not neglected his professional duty and had the right to conscientiously object in such a situation. 

Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International said: “This is an encouraging decision by the court. It is a clear statement that the pharmacist had the right to act in line with his conscience and did not neglect his professional duty in doing so. The right to freedom of conscience must include the right to act accordingly. A free society relies upon its citizens acting conscientiously.”

The Pharmacists’ Chamber has appealed the decision, which is thought to be the first of its kind in Germany. 

In 2015, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a pharmacy that was fined €3,000 for opting not to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ despite a legal requirement to do so. 

According to the Telegraph, the court drew a parallel between the morning-after pill and abortion. The court ruled in its sentence that in this case, legally obligating the vendor to sell the product clashed “with the concept advocated by [the pharmacist] regarding the right to life.”

Medics may leave over NI’s extreme abortion proposals, warns letter signed by over 100 healthcare professionals

Over 100 health professionals have written to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Julian Smith, expressing concern over the new abortion framework for Northern Ireland.

It comes after the Northern Ireland Office’s consultation on the proposed abortion framework for the province, which goes far beyond what the Government was required to do by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, closed last night.  

In July, MPs at Westminster voted to impose Europe’s most extreme abortion law on the country.

The introduction of the new abortion framework is proposed to take place on March 31st 2020. This will follow the current ‘limbo period’ in Northern Ireland, following the change in the law on October 22nd, where there is now no law protecting the unborn child through to 28-weeks.

During this ‘limbo period’, there is only limited guidance from the Government recommending how abortion access should be provided during this period.

Now, 135 GPs, nurses, midwives, radiographers, pharmacists and medical students argue that the document is deeply flawed in how it deals with rights of conscience.

Conscientious protections are just one of our 18 shocking facts about the Government’s proposed abortion framework for Northern Ireland!

The healthcare professionals have written to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, saying they can no longer remain silent on the issue.

In their letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the medics say the Secretary of State must understand the concern felt by people in Northern Ireland, not only about the imposition of the new framework but also its “ham-fisted, overreaching and unwanted nature”.

The letter states: “Many healthcare professionals entered their profession because they desired to protect and uphold life… Consequently, many object to any involvement in abortion provision which by its very nature involves the ending of human life.”

The signatories note that although the abortion framework does not require conscientious objectors to participate in abortion procedures in a “hands-on” capacity, healthcare professionals may find it equally problematic to be asked to undertake ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks involved with abortion procedures. 

This mirrors current legislation in England and Wales, which doesn’t provide protection for medics who would choose not to participate in any tasks relating to an abortion procedure.  

“Performing such tasks may be key to an abortion taking place and could lead to the professional in question feeling they are complicit in something they believe to be deeply wrong,” they added.

“It may be the case that some excellent healthcare professionals, who have given their lives to helping patients, feel they have no choice but to leave the profession they love if they are mandated to act in a way which is contrary to their conscience.”

They added: “The Northern Ireland health system is under enormous strain at the current time.

“Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are struggling to find and retain staff.

“If this measure goes ahead as proposed in the consultation document, an additional barrier will be put up for staff who for understandable reasons conscientiously object to abortion.

“Such a move is unnecessary.

“The consultation document provides no evidence whatsoever as to the numbers of healthcare professionals who it is believed will object to providing abortion services.

“We urge the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider the position they are putting forward.

“It is possible to provide abortion services to all those who are seeking such services while respecting in a fulsome manner the rights of conscience of healthcare professionals.

“The value of life, the need to celebrate and accommodate conscientious objection, and the protection of the integrity of our democracy is too precious for us to remain silent,” the healthcare workers added.