General

By a Newsnet reporter

Two Catholic midwives employed by NHS Greater Glasgow Health Board have won their appeal in the Court of Session in Edinburgh against their employer’s insistence that they should supervise staff involved in pregnancy terminations.

The midwives, Concepta Woods and Mary Duggan, had previously lost a case last year in the same court, where they argued that their right to concientious objection extended to supervisory roles, even though they themselves were not directly involved.

The midwives argued that their employer’s insistence that they provide supervision and support to staff caring for women having an abortion amounted to “participation in treatment” and as such breached their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

NHS Greater Glasgow had claimed that the conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act was applicable only to active participation in a termination and did not provide an exemption from the midwives’ duty to supervise and support staff.  Following a change in management practice at the Southern General Hospital, the midwives found that they were expected to supervise staff who were carrying out late abortions.

After losing their first court case, the midwives announced that they would appeal.  The judges hearing the appeal, Lady Dorrian, Lord Mackay and Lord McEwan found in favour of the midwives and ruled: 

“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…

“The right is given because it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant… It is a matter on which many people have strong moral and religious convictions, and the right of conscientious objection is given out of respect for those convictions and not for any other reason.

“It is in keeping with the reason for the exemption that the wide interpretation which we favour should be given to it … It follows that the appeal should succeed.”

In a statement Ms Duggan said:

“Connie and I are absolutely delighted with today’s judgement from the Court of Session, which recognises and upholds our rights 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 the practice that would violate the conscience and which over time, would indeed debar many from entering what has always been a very rewarding and noble profession. It is with great relief we can now return to considerations that are all to do with child birth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters.”

In a statement, NHS Greater Glasgow aNd Clyde Health Board said:

“We note the outcome of the appeal and will be considering our options with our legal advisers over the next few days.”

Comments  

 
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Lamplighter
2013-04-25 10:21

I hope that if ever I needed a blood transfusion I wouldn’t be faced with a medical practitioner who was a Jehovah’s Witness.

Likewise, when any female requires a medical abortion, I’d hope that neither of these two women were employed in a midwife capacity by the hospital treating that person.

It only needs a brief look at recent events in the Irish Republic to see the awful potential effects on people who don’t necessarily subscribe to or share their medical practitioners beliefs.
 
 
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Ken Mac
2013-04-25 10:51

Quoting Lamplighter:

I hope that if ever I needed a blood transfusion I wouldn’t be faced with a medical practitioner who was a Jehovah’s Witness.

Likewise, when any female requires a medical abortion, I’d hope that neither of these two women were employed in a midwife capacity by the hospital treating that person.

It only needs a brief look at recent events in the Irish Republic to see the awful potential effects on people who don’t necessarily subscribe to or share their medical practitioners beliefs.



A medical abortion is a planned procedure. Surely it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to have a supervisor present who doesn’t object to the procedure?

 
 
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maisiedotts
2013-04-25 11:27

I don’t agree. Wouldn’t that make a nonsense of the “terms and conditions of employment” and equality of pay/job status? Why should some staff have to cover (constantly) for those unwilling to do a part of their job ie supervise a procedure? I rather think these ladies are opting out, as such perhaps they are in the wrong job?
 

 
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maisiedotts
2013-04-25 11:10

I agree, I think the problem lies in the employment rules for nurses etc in that they should be asked at the outset if they have any personal belief which would prevent them doing their job effectively and for the benefit of the patient in their care. If they do have strong personal beliefs that could be detrimental to the care/welfare of the patient then basically they are applying for the wrong job.

Personal belief should not be imposed on or overrule the patient’s, after all the patient may have equally strong and valid (though opposing) beliefs.
 

 
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Ken Mac
2013-04-25 11:35

Do we know when these women were employed and what the rules were at that time?
 
 
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maisiedotts
2013-04-25 12:00

Terms and conditions of employment change from time to time and you are asked to sign the new agreement.

If you don’t wish to do so then the answer is to look for another job where these terms don’t apply, either within the same workplace or field, as I did myself when I was faced with a choice I didn’t agree with.

What you cannot do as an employee is enforce your colleagues to do what you don’t want to do by opting out of part of your duties.
 
 
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Ken Mac
2013-04-25 13:45

Quoting maisiedotts:

Terms and conditions of employment change from time to time and you are asked to sign the new agreement.

If you don’t wish to do so then the answer is to look for another job where these terms don’t apply, either within the same workplace or field, as I did myself when I was faced with a choice I didn’t agree with.

What you cannot do as an employee is enforce your colleagues to do what you don’t want to do by opting out of part of your duties.



Workers don’t have rights? Employers can simply change terms and employees must accept that? I doubt very much if these two midwifes were simply sitting around doing nothing while their colleagues were doing all the work.

”look for another job where these terms don’t apply, either within the same workplace or field”. Isn’t that what they are doing?

 
 
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maisiedotts
2013-04-25 14:53

I’m afraid you have been suckered. This is about much more than these two ladies ‘workers rights’ as the judgement shows. Neither of these two ladies was directly involved in the procedure they were both in positions as labour ward co-ordinators.

guardian.co.uk/…/…

ps why should they get the same wages as colleagues willing to plan and co-ordinate the procedure? What about the rights of their colleagues and more importantly the legal rights of the patient? How is a hospital supposed to function if staff are holding them to ransom in this way?
 

 
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Guinphy
2013-04-25 14:11

I think this sets a very bad precedent; if your job is paid for by tax payers then you should provide the service that the public are paying you for, and which our laws provide for, without complaining that you don’t like certain bits of that job.

If that’s too great a problem: either go into private practice where you get to pick and choose who your clients are or find another job where you’re not taking tax payers’ money to carry out a public service. Then everyone’s happy.
 

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