NRL News

Glasgow health board again tries to force midwives to supervise abortions

by | Aug 28, 2013

By Dr. Peter Saunders

Editor’s note. While my family and I are on vacation, we are running some of our favorite NRL News Today stories from the last four months, entries from our “Roe at 40″ series, and an occasional update.  Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and is CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.

Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood

Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood

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 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 National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) has now said 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.

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 RCM) and the General Medical Council (GMC) would almost certainly need revision.

The Royal College of Midwives 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 General Medical Council 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.

Editor’s note. This appeared at

Categories: International