AN attempt by two Roman Catholic midwives to avoid any participation in abortions has been taken before appeal judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
• Two Roman Catholic midwives have launched legal appeals as they seek to avoid direct and indirect participation in abortions at hospital
• Glasgow Southern General Hospital says nurses should not be exempt from being involved in delegation or support of staff involved in patients seeking termination
Mary Doogan, 58, and Connie Wood, 52, held supervisory positions in the labour ward of Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and played no direct role in terminations, but objected to even having to delegate and support staff who were involved with patients.
However, the hospital management insisted that a conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act applied only to active participation in a termination and did not cover the women’s duties to delegate, supervise and support staff.
Last year, Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood, both of Glasgow, took the issue to court, with financial support from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
In a judgment with important repercussions for hospitals throughout the United Kingdom, Lady Smith refused their petition for a judicial review of the decision of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.
The judge said the 1967 Act allowed only qualified conscientious objection, and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to freedom of conscience and religion were, similarly, not absolute.
“Here, (Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood) are being protected from having any direct involvement with the procedure to which they object. Nothing they have to do as part of their duties terminates a woman’s pregnancy. They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs,” said Lady Smith.
Miss Doogan had been absent due to ill health while the case proceeded, and Mrs Wood was transferred to other duties.
Their appeal against Lady Smith’s ruling is expected to last two days, and opened with the women’s QC, Gerry Moynihan, indicating that it was expected, because of the principles involved and the importance of the case, that whichever side lost would look to take it to the Supreme Court in London for a final determination.
Mr Moynihan argued for a wide interpretation of “participate” and that selecting staff for procedures, and giving support and guidance, amounted to participating in an abortion.
He said: “The dividing line of what is exempt (under conscientious objection) and what is duty ought to be the individual’s conscience, not a bureaucrat saying it is within the literal meaning of ‘participate’ or not.
“The patient is in the hospital only for the purpose of abortion or foeticide. Therefore, all that is done for her in the hospital by the clinical team is part of that treatment. It is incorrect to try to divide up treatment into direct and indirect treatment. The key is that the lady is in hospital for treatment. From the point she steps into the hospital to the point she steps out, she is there for treatment and the team involved in the administration of that treatment is all covered by the exemption. (Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood) are entitled to say, ‘We are not obliged to take any part in this procedure,’ although because of (the duty to act in an emergency) the co-ordinator must have some information and the ability to intervene if required.”
The judges, Lord Mackay, Lady Dorrian and Lord McEwan, will issue their decision in due course.