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Catholic midwives successful in claim over abortions

1st May, 2013

Two Roman Catholic midwives have this week won their case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on appeal, meaning that as a result of their religious beliefs they are no longer required to take part in any element of abortion procedures. This means that they can refuse to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in carrying out abortions. Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood, who believe that a foetus has a right to life, relied on section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 which provides a right of conscientious objection to participation in treatment.

Ms Doogan and Mrs Wood challenged the fact that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde required them to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in carrying out abortions. They claimed that their conscientious objection extended to the whole of their duties (save for their legal duty to carry out treatment necessary to save life or to prevent grave permanent injury) and that it applied to the whole team whose involvement was necessary during the abortion procedure.

Following a judicial review last year, the Court of Session however ruled that their human rights had not been violated as they were not directly involved in the terminations. Lady Smith held “they are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs”. The midwives appealed this decision and their appeal has been upheld. The ruling, published on Wednesday by the appeal judges 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”.

This case could have a real impact on employers in terms of the potential for claims to be brought on the grounds of religious belief discrimination.

For further information or advice in relation to dealing with discrimination claims and managing religious beliefs within your organisation, please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or send an email to [email protected].

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