The Catholic midwives who fought against being involved with terminations are facing a six-figure legal bill after the Supreme Court ruled against them.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the anti abortion charity that backed the pair’s battle to be considered conscientious objectors, said it plans to raise funds to help with costs, which are estimated to be as much as £300,000. . . [Full Text]
The Supreme Court recently handed down its judgment in an interesting and potentially controversial case concerning the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act 1967. Overturning the Inner House of the Court of Session’s ruling, the Court held that two Catholic midwives could be required by their employer to delegate to, supervise and support other staff who were involved in carrying out abortion procedures, as part of their roles as Labour Ward Co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
We set out the background to the case and explained the earlier rulings and their ramifications on this blog here and here. The key question the Supreme Court had to grapple with the meaning of the words “to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” in section 4 of the 1967 Act.
The disappearing Article 9 argument
Somewhat frustratingly (at least from the perspective of the writers of a human rights blog!) an argument based around Article 9 of the European Convention – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – was not really dealt with by the Supreme Court, despite having been trailed in the earlier court proceedings. Lady Hale JSC, who wrote the judgment with which the other Supreme Court Justices agreed, described the point as a “distraction” . . . [Full text]
Judges rule against Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood, who brought case objecting to any involvement in abortions
The UK’s supreme court has ruled that two Catholic midwives do not have the right to refuse to help other nurses with abortion procedures or planning.
Upholding an appeal by Greater Glasgow health board, the court found that Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, who worked as labour ward co-ordinators at the southern general hospital in Glasgow, did not have a legal right to object to helping with abortions in any way.
As conscientious objectors, the senior midwives have had no direct role in pregnancy terminations, but they argued that they should also be entitled to refuse to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in the procedures or providing care to patients during the process.
Reproductive rights campaigners were concerned that a decision by the court of session in Edinburgh in favour of the women’s case last year could have wide-ranging implications for the way the NHS dealt with other health staff who opposed abortions on religious grounds. . . [Full text]
Catholic midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood lose case against being made to supervise other staff carrying out abortions
Two Catholic midwives who refused to take part in any abortion procedures have lost their legal battle to be treated as ‘conscientious objectors’.
The UK’s highest court overturned a previous ruling made in favour of the two midwives, after a Scottish health authority urged it to overturn last year’s decision of the Court of Session, in Edinburgh, in the case of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood.
The ruling is likely to mean that Ms Doogan and Ms Wood will now have to supervise abortions carried out by other staff, as part of their terms of employment, although they will still be free to refuse to carry out the terminations themselves.
The case centres on the scope of the right to conscientious objection under the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”. . . [Full text]
The UK’s highest court ruled on the matter this morning.
TWO MIDWIVES WHO do not want to partake in any abortion services in the UK have been told they must still delegate, supervise and support other staff.
The ruling was made by the UK’s highest court today, overruling a previous judgement that found in favour of the nurses.
Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan are both conscientious objectors and have been labelled in the British media as “Catholic midwives” since they began their legal challenge seven years ago. . . [Full text]
Midwives, Archbishop of Glasgow and SPUC react to decision announced this morning that fails to protect their right to conscientiously object to supervising abortion
Scottish Catholic Observer
The Supreme Court has ruled two Glasgow Catholic midwives cannot conscientiously object to supervising abortions performed on labour wards.
Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, the midwives in the case, commented on the ruling, releaed this morning to say the they were ‘saddened and extremely disappointed with the verdict’ and suggested it will have a substantial ‘detrimental effect’ on ‘staff of conscience throughout the UK.’
“Despite it having been recognised that the number of abortions on the labour 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 labour ward,” they said. . . [Full Text]
Landmark decision ‘could have severe impact on women’s care’, experts warn
Midwives who object to abortions could be allowed to opt out of any involvement with women who choose to terminate their unborn babies.
The UK’s Supreme Court will today hear an appeal after two Catholic midwives won a landmark case for the right to refuse any involvement in abortion procedures in 2013.
Mary Doogan, 58, and Connie Wood, 52, argued that being required to supervise staff involved in abortions was a violation of their human rights.
The women had no direct role in pregnancy terminations, but claimed they should also be able to refuse to support staff taking part in the procedures.
If the court upholds that decision it could set a legal precedent, allowing other midwives who object to abortions to take the same stance.
But the Royal College of Midwives and the women’s charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) warned today that such a ruling could have severe implications for the care of women choosing abortions.
Ms Doogan and Ms Wood took their case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2012, but lost.
But in April last year, three appeal judges at the same court ruled their appeal should succeed.
Judges at the court will tomorrow hear an appeal by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
A spokesman for the RCM and bpas said the two bodies are ‘deeply concerned’ that the judgement ‘extends the right of conscientious objection beyond the provisions intended by the Abortion Act’. . . . [Full text]
The Greater Glasgow Health Board has appealed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to overturn a ruling that two midwives cannot be compelled to participate in abortions by delegating, supervising and supporting those involved in the procedures. The case is to be heard 11 November, 2014.
The midwives’ legal costs have been in excess of £250,000 ($396,758 USD) to date. The appeal is expected to cost them a further £130,000 ($206,314 USD). The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is assisting with their legal costs and has appealed for donations.
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Greater Glasgow Health Board (Appellant) v Doogan and another (Respondents) (Scotland)
Case ID: UKSC 2013/0124
Judicial Review – Abortion – Conscientious objection – Midwives
Does s.4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty… to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”, entitle a Labour Ward Co-ordinator to refuse to delegate to, supervise and/or support midwives providing care to patients undergoing termination procedures?
From the outset of their employment with the appellant health board, the respondent senior midwives, both Roman Catholics, objected to and were exempted from directly participating in the treatment of patients undergoing terminations. Following a service reorganisation, the numbers of abortions performed at the hospital where they worked increased. They sought confirmation from the appellant that they would not be required to delegate to, supervise or support other midwives providing care to such patients. The appellant declined to give this assurance, rejecting the respondents’ grievance and subsequent appeal. The respondents challenged the latter decision by way of judicial review, contending that it contravened s.4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967. They were unsuccessful at first instance but succeeded on appeal to the Inner House.
 CSIH 36
Greater Glasgow Health Board
- Mary Teresa Doogan
- Concepta Wood
- Royal College of Midwives
- British Pregnancy Advisory Service
When two Glasgow midwives won the right to opt out of supervising abortions last April I suggested that the General Medical Council (GMC) needed to revise its professional guidance on the matter which now seemed to be at odds with the law.
At the time Niall Dickson (pictured), the GMC’s chief executive, actually told the Guardian that the GMC would need to consider the implications of the judges’ decision on its guidance. He is quoted as saying:
We will study the outcome of this ruling, which has just come out, to see if there are any implications for our guidance. We already have clear guidance which says that doctors should be open with employers and colleagues so they can practise in accordance with their beliefs without compromising patient care.
As I have heard nothing further from the GMC about the matter, and almost two months have passed, I have today written to Mr Dickson to ask what is happening. [Full text]
The National Health Service of Greater Glasgow and Clyde, regional provider of state health care, will attempt to overturn an appeal court ruling favourable to freedom of conscience for health care workers by appealing to Britain’s Supreme Court. Two midwives who, for reasons of conscience, refused to participate in the supervision and support of staff providing abortions successfully appealed a lower court ruling against them. The judgement of the appeal court was given in April. [Irish Post]