TWO Catholic midwives have won their ground-breaking legal battle to be exempted from playing any role in abortions.
Clare woman Connie Wood, 52, and Mary Doogan, 58, previously lost a case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for the right to conscientiously object to being involved in terminations.
The court rejected the claim that the midwifery sisters’ human rights were being violated because they had no direct involvement with abortion procedures.
But appeal judges have now upheld their challenge, ruling that the right to conscientious exemption entitles them to refuse to delegate, support or supervise staff performing abortions. The verdict came 14 months after they first took the health board, Scotland’s largest, to court.
Both women raised their objection on religious grounds while employed as labour ward co-ordinators at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
“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,” said Lady Dorrian, who presided over the appeal along with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan.
The right to conscientious objection enshrined in 1967 Abortion Act, she added, exists because “abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant” and therefore “should extend to any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy”.
Critics claim that the decision will “open the floodgates” to conscientious objectors across Britain’s health service.
In a statement, 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”.
They added: “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.”
Welcoming the ruling, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “This outcome will be a great relief to all midwives, nurses and doctors who may be under pressure to supervise abortion procedures and who are wondering whether the law protects their right to opt out.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was considering its options and consulting with legal advisers.