Catholic midwives win appeal over abortion case

Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan took their case to the Court of Session

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Two Roman Catholic midwives have won a legal battle to avoid taking any part in abortion procedures.

Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, lost a previous case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC).

The court ruled that their human rights had not been violated as they were not directly involved in terminations.

Appeal judges have now ruled their right to conscientious objection means they can refuse to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in abortions.

Ms Doogan, from Garrowhill in Glasgow, and Mrs Wood, from Clarkston in East Renfrewshire, were employed as labour ward co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

Judicial review

The midwifery sisters have a right of conscientious objection, which is recognised in the 1967 Abortion Act.

They challenged whether the health board, NHS GGC, was entitled to require them to delegate, supervise and support staff in the work.

Following a judicial review in February last year at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, judge Lady Smith ruled against the women.

Lady Smith said: "Nothing they have to do as part of their duties terminates a woman's pregnancy.

Start Quote

Today's judgement is a welcome affirmation of the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would violate their conscience”

End Quote Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood

"They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs."

Following the judgement, the women launched an appeal.

Their counsel Gerry Moynihan QC told the court that in so far as the women were part of a team, their right to conscientious objection extended to the whole of their duties, save for the provision that there was an obligation to participate in life-saving measures.

He said there was clear legal authority that the right to conscientious objection was intended to apply to the whole team whose involvement was necessary to achieve the procedure.

Mr Moynihan said that because the midwives let the administration know of their objection in advance, the health board could manage its staff as a whole to respect their right to conscientious objection.

"The administrative convenience of the health board is irrelevant because the right is a balance between facilitating abortion while respecting the genuine conscientious objection of medical, nursing and ancillary staff," he said.

Mr Moynihan told the court that the woman said there were "work-around arrangements" to cover their objections prior to 2007.

'Dividing line'

He argued that "the dividing line" over what was exempt ought to be an individual's conscience and not a bureaucrat saying that was not in the literal meaning of participation.

Brian Napier QC, for NHS GGC, told the appeal judges that having responsibility of a managerial, supervisory or support nature did not of itself trigger the right to conscientious objection.

Lady Dorrian, sitting with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan, issued a ruling on Wednesday, backing the midwives.

The ruling 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."

Following the ruling, Ms Doogan and Mr's Wood said they were "absolutely delighted".

In a statement, the women said: "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 a practice that would violate their 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 GGC said: "We note the outcome of the appeal and will be considering our options with our legal advisers over the next few days."

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