Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Glasgow health board again tries to force midwives to supervise abortions

Two Glasgow midwives, who won a landmark legal battle to avoid taking any part in abortion procedures, may now have to return to court.

Last April appeal judges ruled that the right of Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood (pictured) to conscientious objection meant they could refuse to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in abortions.

The verdict marked the first time in Britain that the right to conscientious objection was deemed to extend beyond direct participation.

But a spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) has now said (apparently at the prompting of the National Secular Society) that it is the health board’s intention to appeal the decision of the Inner House of the Court of Session to The Supreme Court (Further reports here and here).

The Abortion Act 1967 gives healthcare professionals the right to conscientiously object to ‘participate’ in abortion but the scope of the word ‘participate’ has been the matter of some legal dispute.

Lady Dorrian, who presided at the previous appeal  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 previous judgment was hugely significant and meant that official guidance from both the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the General Medical Council (GMC) would almost certainly need revision.

The RCM guidance currently reads as follows:

‘The RCM believes that the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause should only include direct involvement in the procedure of terminating pregnancy. Thus all midwives should be prepared to care for women before, during and after a termination in a maternity unit under obstetric care.’

The GMC guidance  similarly reads:

'In England, Wales and Scotland the right to refuse to participate in terminations of pregnancy (other than where the termination is necessary to save the life of, or prevent grave injury to, the pregnant woman), is protected by law under section 4(1) of the Act. This right is limited to refusal to participate in the procedure(s) itself and not to pre- or post-treatment care, advice or management, see the Janaway case: Janaway v Salford Area Health Authority [1989] 1AC 537'

The outcome of the case is important because the Supreme Court is the highest court in Britain and its rulings will therefore be binding on all lower courts and will have repercussions not just for nurses but also for doctors and all other healthcare staff.

As I have previously argued as Christians we should not be intimidated by state or other authorities who attempt to force us to do what we believe is morally wrong.

Abortion not only takes an innocent human life, it is also contrary to all historic codes of medical ethics including the Hippocratic Oath and Declaration of Geneva.

These courageous midwives, who have been victimised by their health authority, deserve our prayers and support.

‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’ (Acts 5:29)

(I have blogged on this case more extensively here, here and here)  


  1. If I do not physically take part in a robbery, but knowingly provide the thieves with information or equipment to enable them to perform the crime, or provide the get away car or help conceal or dispose of the loot, I am guilty under uk law as if I had been on the premises myself.
    So if it is accepted that in some people's opinion, abortion is as morally unacceptable as robbery, then asking them to aid and abett the abortion is a denial of the right of conscientious objection.
    So the only logical positions are
    A. Abortion is ok, and nobody should be allowed to object, in which case there is no such thing as religious freedom,
    B. Abortion is immoral and should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances eg to save the life of the mother,
    C. Society accepts that there are differing opinions, and those with a conscientious objection should not be forced into participating in any way against their religious beliefs, but this should not prevent them from doing their job.
    The idea of midwives, trained and employed to support women in safe pregnancy and childbirth, having terminating pregnancies as part of their duties seems bizarre.

    1. Option C allows for 'reasonable accommodation' which is the only option possible that safeguards conscience when abortion is legal. But the main practical problem is that abortion has been made part of healthcare inevitably creating conflicts of this kind. If euthanasia were to be legalised in the same way we would see similar conflicts.


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