Midwives and other healthcare professionals have no statutory right to conscientious objection
Northern Ireland midwives who object to providing abortion care have been advised by their professional body to inform their management as soon as possible.
The new arrangements mean that women will not be criminalised for seeking an abortion and midwives and other healthcare professionals will not be criminally prosecuted for providing abortion services.
However, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said that at the moment, “midwives and other healthcare professionals continue to have no statutory right to conscientious objection”. . . . [Full text]
Midwife voices fear for conscientious objectors if NI legislation changes
Health workers in Northern Ireland could be left “exposed” by changes to abortion law, a lecturer in midwifery has claimed.
Debbie Duncan spent over 30 years working as a midwife in Scotland and England and now lectures at the school of nursing and midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast.
She was never obliged to take part in abortions during her career as the law allowed her to conscientiously object.
Ms Duncan said she fears “too much change with no regulation” means the same protections may not apply here. . . [Full text]
Catholic Universe-The Catholic Times
Pro-life groups have claimed that the recent drop in applications to midwifery courses could be rectified by enshrining conscientious objection.
Recent figures show that there has been a 35 per cent drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which analysed the latest Ucas data for England, said the biggest reduction was in those aged 21 or over.
In 2013, more than 12,000 people aged over 21 applied for a midwifery course in England, but by 2017 that figure had dropped to just 6,700 – a decrease of 45 per cent. . . [Full text]
Pro-choice groups have condemned an attempt to create new laws that would allow doctors and nurses to refuse to take part in abortions on moral grounds.
A private bill going through the House of Lords that would expand rights of conscientious objection for healthcare professionals has been dismissed as unnecessary by abortion providers and campaigners.
Those in favour of the bill, sponsored by the Northern Irish crossbench peer Nuala O’Loan, insisted their aim was not to restrict abortion but to uphold freedom of belief and religion they claim is under threat in hospitals since a contentious supreme court ruling in 2014. . . [Full text]
Christian Medical Fellowship Blogs
Fallout from the Glasgow Midwives case continues to roll out. This month the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) released (rather quietly) their new position statement on abortion. The case of Doogan & Wood highlighted an issue with the conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act. Specifically this was around what constituted actually being involved in an abortion procedure.
The two senior midwives at a Glaswegian maternity unit made it clear that they did not wish to be responsible for supervising junior staff involved in termination of pregnancy procedures on the basis of a conscientious objection to abortion.
Although the Scottish Court of Appeal upheld their claim, The Supreme Court eventually ruled that they had no right to opt out of supervision, delegation or support of junior staff, as the right to conscientious objection only applied to those involved in direct, clinical procedures. Supervisory roles or other areas of care could not be subject to the right to conscientious objection in the Abortion Act. . . [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]
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