Labour Court clarifies freedoms of religion and conscience in healthcare sector

Wistrand International Law Office

Jörgen Larsson

Introduction

Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world with full freedom of religion. Further, freedom of conscience is a right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, domestic law recognises no right to conscientious objection. In this respect, Sweden differs from most other European countries.

In 2017 the Labour Court clarified from an employment law perspective whether freedom of conscience gives healthcare professionals a right to conscientious objection.

Facts

A midwife expressed that her religious beliefs forbid her from performing abortion services. When she expressed her opinion, three different healthcare regions in Sweden refused to employ her. The midwife brought the case to the Equality Ombudsman, which found that her refusal to perform abortion services was a manifestation of her religious beliefs and was thus protected by Article 9 of the ECHR. The Equality Ombudsman also found that the healthcare regions’ requirement that the midwife perform abortion services was reasonable and motivated by social interests in order to secure women’s effective access to abortion services. Therefore, the midwife’s freedom of religion had not been violated. . . . Full Text

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