MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — Two Scottish Catholic midwives have won the right to refuse to supervise, delegate or support staff involved in abortions.
The judgment by the Inner House of the Court of Session — the Scottish court of appeal — overturned an earlier decision that ruled that midwives Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood had no right to conscientious objection for involvement in abortions at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland.
Lawyers for the employers, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, had successfully argued at the Court of Session in February 2012 that the Section 4 conscience clause of the Abortion Act 1967 applied only to direct involvement in the procedure.
But in their unanimous ruling, published April 24, three judges of the Inner House said: “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.”
Afterward, the midwives issued a joint statement in which they said they were “absolutely delighted” by the decision.
“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 labor — a mother and that of her unborn child,” they said.
“Today’s judgment 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,” they added. “It is with great relief we can now return to considerations that are all to do with childbirth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters.”
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow said in a statement from Rome that the ruling was “a victory for freedom of conscience and for common sense.”
“I hope that many pro-life health professionals will take heart from this judgment and have the courage to express their own objections if and when they are asked to carry out tasks which are morally wrong and violate their conscience,” he said.
Catholic lawyer Neil Addison, director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, which specializes in religious discrimination law, said the judgment would be binding on England and Wales as well as Scotland.
He predicted that the ruling would increase the protection open to medical professionals who object to any involvement in abortions.
“Frequently hospitals have suggested that Section 4 only applied to the actual giving of the drugs but did not cover other aspects of nursing work,” he said in an email to Catholic News Service. “This judgment vindicates the nurses I have represented who have refused to participate in any aspect of abortion ‘treatment.'”
In a press statement, the midwives’ employer said it intended to consider its legal options.
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