NRL News

Midwives’ right of conscience victory challenged once again in court

by | Nov 10, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood

Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood

When senior midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood won a pivotal right of conscience case in 2013, everyone knew the legal proceedings would not end there. Tomorrow the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will hear an appeal brought by the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which is supported by the pro-abortion British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and the Royal College of Midwives.

The midwives, with more than 20 years’ experience, initially lost their cases against their employers in the Outer House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2012. However “That decision was overturned in 2013 by the Court’s Inner House, which judged the midwives were legally allowed to refrain from delegating to, supervising and supporting colleagues involved in abortion care on their wards,” according to Lizzie Parry on the Daily MailOnline.

The dispute arose when Doogan’s and Wood’s employers reorganized abortion services in 2007. Mid-term and late-term abortions would be performed on the labor ward rather than on the gynecology ward and the midwives were told they had to oversee abortion procedures.

Central to Doogan’s and Wood’s defense was that previously they were not called on to delegate, supervise or support staff engaged in the care of patients undergoing abortions.

The Abortion Act of 1967 states that no one with a conscientious objection can be obliged to participate in abortion procedures. “However, the hospital management insisted that a conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act applied only to active participation in a termination and did not cover the women’s duties to delegate, supervise and support staff,” The Scotsman reported.

But referring to the midwives’ right to object, the Inner House said, “The right is given because it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant. It is in keeping with the reason for the exemption that the wide interpretation which we favour should be given to it.”

The BPAS and the Royal College of Midwives warned of dire consequences if the midwives’ victory is sustained. A spokesman for both told Parry, it would “enable a tiny number of staff opposed to abortion to make women’s care undeliverable in some NHS settings in the UK.”

The basic argument against Doogan’s and Wood’s position is that they are “sufficiently removed from any involvement” in the abortions.

The mid-wives attorney, Gerry Moynihan, suggested their consciences should determine what tasks they felt they could undertake.

At a hearing last year, Moynihan told the court: “The dividing line ought to be the individual’s conscience, not a bureaucrat saying what is within the literal meaning of the word ‘participation’ or not.”

When Doogan and Wood prevailed in 2013, they issued the following statement:

“Connie and I are absolutely delighted with today’s judgement from the Court of Session, which recognises and upholds our rights of conscientious objection as labour ward midwifery sisters to withdraw from participating in any treatment that would result in medical termination of pregnancy.

In holding all life to be sacred from conception to natural death, as midwives we have always worked in the knowledge we have two lives to care for throughout labour; a mother and that of her unborn child.

Today’s judgement is a welcome affirmation of the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would violate their conscience and which over time, would indeed debar many from entering what has always been a very rewarding and noble profession. We hope that GG&CHB will respect the court’s decision so that we can return to considerations that are all to do with child birth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters.

We wish to thank the many individuals the length and breadth of Britain and, indeed, further afield, who have given us great help and support throughout the duration of our dispute with GG&CHB. Though too numerous to individually highlight, special mention has to be given to both sets of family, without whose support we could not have taken on this case, to SPUC and to our very talented legal team whose expertise and support we could not have done without. Thank you to each and everyone.”

Tags: Midwives