Roman Catholic midwives fight for the right not to treat women having abortions

Mary Doogan has been off work for a year. Picture: Dan Phillips
Mary Doogan has been off work for a year. Picture: Dan Phillips
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TWO Roman Catholic midwives are fighting a court battle to be excused any involvement in abortions at the hospital where they work.

Mary Doogan, 57, and Concepta Wood, 51, claim that they are entitled as conscientious objectors to play no part in terminations, which their faith considers “a grave offence against human life”.

Management at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow insist that, while the women have the right not to participate, they can still be required to provide supervision and support to staff undertaking terminations.

The dispute has remained unresolved after a series of hearings and appeals within NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, and has now gone to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood, both of Glasgow, want judge Lady Smith to issue an order against the board to ensure they “are not required to participate in treatment for termination of pregnancy, or to delegate, supervise or support staff engaged in such treatment”.

The court heard that the women each worked part-time as a midwifery sister and a co-ordinator in the labour ward at the Southern General. Both had many years’ service, and from the outset each had declared a conscientious objection to termination work, as provided for under the 1967 Abortion Act.

Until recent years, they were not expected to, and did not, take part in the treatment of patients undergoing terminations. However, changes at the hospital, and the closure of the Queen Mother’s Maternity Hospital in the city, saw a rise in the number of women undergoing terminations at the Southern. They were treated on the labour ward, and a dispute developed between midwives and management.

Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood sought confirmation they were not required to delegate, supervise or support staff conducting a termination. The board rejected their application.

In a petition for judicial review of the decision, lawyers for the women said: “The delegation, supervision and support of staff in the treatment of patients undergoing a termination procedure requires [Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood] to participate in the termination process. It may require them, in the direction and guidance of staff, to demonstrate, engage in and administer procedures within the termination process.”

The court was told Miss Doogan had been off work through ill health for more than a year due to the dispute, and that Mrs Wood had been forced to ask for a transfer to alternative work.

The petition stated: “They are both practising Roman Catholics. They hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offence against human life.

“They hold a belief that involvement in the process of termination, including the facilitation of the process, renders them accomplices to, and culpable for, the grave offence… [and] that their involvement in the process is wrongful and an offence against God and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”

NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board said it recognised the women’s right not to participate in the termination of pregnancy, but that it acted lawfully in deciding they could be required to delegate, supervise and support other staff.

It said: “[The board] has not, and will not, require any employee to participate in any treatment to which an employee has a conscientious objection in terms of section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967.

“The dispute between the parties concerns the meaning of ‘right of conscientious objection’ under the Act.”

The board submitted there was no right to refuse to delegate, supervise and support staff.

The hearing is set to last several days.