Scottish court of appeal permits conscientious objection ‘to the whole process of treatment’ in terminations
Two Roman Catholic midwives have won the right to refuse to help with any abortion procedures or planning after an appeal court ruling in Scotland.
Judges in Edinburgh ruled that Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, who worked as labour ward co-ordinators in Glasgow, had a legal right to consciously object to helping with abortions in any way.
The ruling, which could be appealed against by Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, may have wide ramifications for the NHS and other health staff who oppose abortions on religious grounds.
The midwives, practising Catholics, had lost a previous case against the board after a judge ruled that working on ward planning or delegating staff did not involve actually carrying out abortions.
Giving judgment in a judicial review last year, Lady Smith said: “Nothing they have to do as part of their duties terminates a woman’s pregnancy.
“They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs.”
But the appeal court in Edinburgh on Wednesday overturned that ruling and said the Abortion Act 1967 gave medical staff wide-ranging protection against taking part in abortions on religious and conscience grounds.
Lady Dorrian, sitting with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan, said: “In our view 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.”
The midwives’ lawyer, Gerry Moynihan QC, had said it was up to staff rather than their managers to decide what was morally or ethically objectionable to them. Their employers were saying that their administrative convenience over-rode the midwives’ right to conscience, he argued.
Moynihan said the right to object covered all their duties, with the exception of helping in life-saving treatments. There was clear legal authority that the right to conscientious objection extended to all the staff involved in preparing or planning for a procedure, he said.
“The administrative convenience of the health board is irrelevant because the right is a balance between facilitating abortion while respecting the genuine conscientious objection of medical, nursing and ancillary staff,” he told the court.