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Midwives lose abortion argument


Two anti-abortion midwives who claimed that being involved in termination procedures violated their human rights have lost their legal case.

As “conscientious objectors”, Concepta Wood, 51, and Mary Doogan, 57, argued that being obliged to help staff who performed abortion procedures is “abhorrent” and that they were entitled to refuse to be involved.

The pair, both Catholics, claimed they should not have to delegate, supervise or support other midwives and nurses, nor should they have to provide care to women who have undergone the procedure.

They took their case against their employer, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

But Judge Lady Smith ruled that Ms Wood and Ms Doogan are not directly involved in abortions anyway.

Dismissing their petition for a judicial review, she 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.


Readers' comments (12)

  • When you become a midwife you have to take the good with the bad, right or wrong!

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  • These 2 midwives sound a lot like ongoing republican debates in america. This view of removing responsibilities of care to female patients due to religious beliefs is medieval. Church and state must remain separate to protect everyone's rights to fair, safe, and ethical treatment

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  • In some ways I respect the needs of midwives who do not wish to participate in abortion as they probably took their jobs with the intention of bringing babies into the world. As a student nurse I saw one abortion but was not required to assist if I considered it against my beliefs and values.

    However, on the other side of the coin many people are coming forward in the workplace to defend a wide variety of different beliefs and values which could eventually lead to chaos and time lost trying to evaluate their justification and fairness for other employees and clients and the convenience and organisation and planning of the employer and one wonders whether there is really room to accommodate personal and religious beliefs and values in the workplace. It seems such beliefs and values, needs and wishes on both sides should be made very clear at interview and written into an agreement between both parties and in the work contract so that later and costly and damaging disagreements resulting in possible dismissal or resignation do not arise.

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  • Tiger Girl

    This is very similar to an area the GMC covers for doctors, and the answer seems to be the one the GMC uses.

    Basically, if a patient requests something which would be provided by a doctor except for some personal (as opposed to ethical) belief, such as a personal religious objection, then the doctor is required to organise a different doctor for the patient. However, before that has been done, the doctor is not supposed to allow harm to come to the patient, because of the individual doctor's personal beliefs.

    This comes down to accepting the existing generalised professional ethics, when you enter a profession, and accepting the law of the land.

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  • Unfortunately, the article gives little detail of this particular case.

    Caroline Taylor | 1-Mar-2012 10:17 pm

    To dismiss the religious beliefs of staff(whatever religion that may be) out of hand as medieval, is as narrow-minded and ignorant as disregarding the opposing view. And you have understood nothing of the midwives reasons for bringing this case. From their post-judgement statement:

    “We are… aware of the difficult choices that some expectant mothers may be faced with in a crisis pregnancy,” she said. “However, in holding to the view that life should be protected from conception to natural death, neither do we wish to be judged for exercising what is and always has been our legal right to refuse to participate in the process of medical termination of pregnancy.”

    Anonymous | 2-Mar-2012 10:06 am

    "It seems such beliefs and values, needs and wishes on both sides should be made very clear at interview and written into an agreement between both parties and in the work contract so that later and costly and damaging disagreements resulting in possible dismissal or resignation do not arise."

    I agree and, in an ideal world, this would happen. The situation in Glasgow was brought about by the re-organisation of services. ie the closure of a major maternity hospital and the shifting of services to the hospital in which the two midwives worked. The midwives concerned felt that their role had changed (without their agreement) to suit the new demands on their service. Again from their statement:

    “For most of our 20-plus years of employment as midwifery sisters at the Southern General Hospital we have been proud to be associated with a maternity unit in which the right of all midwifery staff to freedom of conscience has been acknowledged, protected and upheld with no detrimental outcome to any mother whatsoever,” she said. “Unfortunately, following the changes in working practices which were introduced in 2008 along with new management and a new restrictive interpretation of the conscience clause, those historical and legal rights were in effect negated. In seeking a judicial review, our aim… [was] merely to reinstate those rights as previously and correctly interpreted.”

    As they are both midwives of many years experience at this hospital, it would be wrong to think that they had recently come into post and were throwing their toys out of the pram.

    This case has been going on for a couple of years, and should have been better dealt with by the employer, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Costly court proceedings could and should have been avoided.

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  • Anonymous | 1-Mar-2012 12:10 pm

    Didn't think before you wrote that, did you?

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  • I agree with Caroline! . I am living in the USA and unfortunately have to listen to politicians and church members argue that women should have no rights over their own bodies . I was a midwife in the Uk and believe women have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies whether I agree or not . It is apparent when practicsing Midwifery that we see and do things that we do not always agree with, but we have undertaken a duty of care which guides our practice for the best outcome of the women and families we care for .

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  • LISA MCNAMARA | 5-Mar-2012 1:45 pm

    This is not the US. And on the back of such an article so free of facts, it is unsurprising to see such polarised and entrenched views.

    These midwives are not out on the streets with placards, screaming right wing hymns or bombing abortion clinics. They have not launched any attacks on any midwives who participate in abortion procedures. Yet they are being demonised for their beliefs by the intolerant here. In their view, abortion is not "....the best outcome of the women and families we care for . " They have a legal right not to participate in abortions. After many years of dedicated service, new working practises were brought into their unit which they felt exposed them to a level of participation with which they could not agree. In her judgement at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Lady Jane Smith thought differently and ruled accordingly.

    Whether or not you agree with abortion is not actually the point. This is a matter of conscience. I daresay that if someone forced you to work in conditions which, in good conscience, you could not accept for whatever reason, you might have something to say about that. Merely declaring that ALL midwives should work within the terms that YOU think are right is simply not good enough.

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  • Once again, NT headlines are misleading. I can see both sides of the "argument". As a nurse, I would never refuse to help a person who needed nursing care. I would also not agree to participate in an abortion. But the two are not mutually exclusive. One can support women who have undergone abortions without having to get involved in the procedures themselves. I supported my friend who underwent an abortion, despite my own views on the subject. The fact is that she was going to undergo an abortion anyway, and I felt that as a friend my first duty was to support her and put my own beliefs on the back burner. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don't know. We do what we need to do at any given time.

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  • Whatever next? shall i start saying i don't want to care for drug addicts or alcaholics? Or women wanting a boob job? No i just get on with my job and care for whoever comes through the door. As a nurse thats what I'm paid to do, I'm not paid to judge.

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