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Midwives’ abortion objection to be challenged in the Supreme Court

<> on January 24, 2011 in Washington, DC.

THE CATHOLIC midwives who won a landmark legal victory to be exempted from abortions may have to continue their battle in the Supreme Court, The Irish Post has learned.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has announced it will appeal a ruling earlier this year that found Clare woman Connie Wood and her colleague Mary Doogan could refuse to delegate, support and supervise staff performing abortions.

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The verdict marked the first time in Britain that the right to conscientious objection was deemed to extend beyond direct participation in terminations.

Speaking to The Irish Post, a spokesperson for the health board said: “It is our intention to appeal the decision of the Inner House of the Court of Session to The Supreme Court.”

The news has been met with dismay by the Catholic pressure group that backed the midwives’ legal fight since they raised their objections on religious grounds while working as labour ward co-ordinators at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital.

“We are disappointed, particularly for Connie and Mary, as this means prolonging this lengthy case even further,” said Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

“It is also particularly disappointing considering that the appeal judgment was so clear, so comprehensive and so decisive in favour of their case.”

More than a year after the two women first took NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to court, judges ruled in April that they should not have to play any role in abortion procedures.

Noting that the right to conscientious objection enshrined in 1967 Abortion Act exists because “abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant”, they concluded that it “should extend to any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy”.

At the time, Ms Wood and Ms Doogan welcomed the verdict as “affirmation of the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would violate their conscience”.

Mr Tully predicted that the midwives, both aged in their 50s, will continue to resist any legal action against them and praised their “resolute commitment not to be involved in abortion in any way”.

Asked whether he thought the NHS had a chance of winning its appeal, Mr Tully said he believed the legal rights of midwives are “very clear” under the Abortion Act.

“But we have seen how courts in the UK have handed down very negative and highly questionable judgments on ethical matters; such as in the Tony Bland euthanasia case and in the Debbie Purdy assisted suicide case,” he added.

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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