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Scottish Judge Rules Catholic Midwives Have No Right to Conscientiously Object to Participation in Abortions

by | Mar 2, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Midwives Mary Doogan, left, and Concepta Wood

In a February 29 ruling, a judge at Scotland’s Court of Session in Edinburgh held that two senior Catholic midwives had no right to conscientiously object to overseeing staff involved in late-term abortions in a state-run hospital.

The judge, Lady Smith, held that Mary Doogan, 57, and Concepta Wood, 51, could not invoke the conscience clause of the 1967 Abortion Act to opt out of their duties because they were not directly involved in performing the abortions at  Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital where they had  served for more than 20 years.

The dispute arose when their employers –National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde–“demanded in 2007 that mid-term and late-term abortions would be performed on the labor ward rather than on the gynecology ward,” The Catholic News Service reported.

Center to their defense was that previously they were not called on to delegate, supervise or support staff engaged in the care of patients undergoing abortions. They also claimed that the health board decision  breached their freedom of religion rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lady Smith was unpersuaded.  

“They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs,” the judge said. “The nature of their duties does not, in fact, require them to provide treatment to terminate pregnancies directly.”

Doogan issued a statement yesterday in which she said both midwives were “greatly saddened” by the verdict.

“Neither Connie nor I stand in judgment of any woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy for whatever reasons,” she said. “We are more than aware of the difficult choices that some expectant mothers may be faced with in a crisis pregnancy.

“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 our legal right to refuse to participate in the process of medical termination of pregnancy. We wish now to take some time to consider all options that are available to us, including appeal,” she said.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) voiced its disappointment with the verdict.

“SPUC has supported the midwives in bringing their case, and will now be considering their further legal options with them,” said Paul Tully, general secretary of the SPUC.

“Both the midwives have served for over 20 years at the Southern General Hospital, caring for many thousands of mothers and babies,” Tully said. “The case arose when the hospital demanded that all senior midwives must take responsibility for overseeing mid-term and late term abortions. Since 2008 the hospital has insisted that these abortions, mostly for suspected disability in the foetus, must be conducted on the labour ward, rather than the gynaecology ward where most early abortions are performed.”

The late abortion procedure, called “Medical Termination of Pregnancy” or MTOP, “entails the mother being given drugs to induce labour, and then having to go through labour and deliver the baby,” Tully said. “In more advanced pregnancies the baby is killed first by an ultrasound-guided lethal injection while still in the womb.”

The hospital’s labor ward delivers 6,000 babies every year, Tully explained, “but is also required to provide about 1-3 MTOPs each week–a number which has increased since a special unit for diagnosing disability in the womb was transferred to the Southern General Hospital in January 2010.”

Tully concluded, “The conscience clause was included in the Abortion Act to assure [Members of Parliament] that noone would be forced to participate in abortions.”

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Categories: Abortion