Mary Doogan and Connie Wood were previously told by the state-run National Health Service in Glasgow that they had to supervise and support fellow midwives who perform abortions. As senior staff, they were also expected to be on standby to help in abortion procedures in certain medical situations. On Feb. 29 Scotland’s highest civil court ruled that the women’s religious liberties were not being infringed because “the nature of their duties does not in fact require them to provide treatment to terminate pregnancies directly.”
The Court of Session judgment also said that the women knew abortions were part of the job description when they accepted their posts as labor ward coordinators. Doogan said they were “very disappointed” by the verdict and that it would have “very grave consequences for anyone of conscience who wishes to choose midwifery as a career.”
The midwives had maintained that their right to opt-out of providing abortions for reasons of conscience was upheld by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 4(1) of the U.K.’s 1967 Abortion Act. The two midwives previously told the Court of Session that “they hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offense against human life.” But the National Health Service in Glasgow rejected their appeals, claiming that their rights are being respected because the midwives are not compelled to administer abortion-inducing drugs. The Court of Session today agreed with that argument.
The court ruled today that the 1967 Abortion Act allowed only qualified conscientious objection, and that the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to freedom of conscience and religion were not absolute. Both Doogan and Wood have worked for over 20 years at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and have always made clear their conscientious objection to abortion. In 2007, however, the National Health Service in Glasgow decided to send more women undergoing late-term abortions to labor wards, instead of admitting them to gynecological departments. This change in policy led to the current dispute between the health service and the midwives. Doogan, who comes from Glasgow, has been absent from work because of poor health since 2010, as a result of the ongoing situation. Meanwhile, Wood has been transferred to other duties.
Lawyers for the two women say they will study the verdict before deciding whether or not to appeal.