Catholic midwives' abortion victory welcomed

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has welcomed a court ruling upholding the right to conscientious objection of two midwives who refused to have any role in abortion procedures.

Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, both practising Catholics, challenged NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on having to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in terminations.

They lost a previous case against the health board when a judge ruled that their human rights had not been violated because they were not directly involved in carrying out terminations.

But a court of appeal in Edinburgh ruled on Wednesday that conscientious objection could apply to supporting staff involved in abortions.

The right to conscientious objection is protected by the 1967 Abortion Act.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, said the decision by the appeal judges was a "victory for freedom of conscience and for common sense".

"The midwives are to be commended for their courage and determination in standing up to an unjust requirement of the employer that they be involved in abortion procedures. As the judges state, the right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole abortion process," he said.

"I hope that many pro-life health professionals will take heart from this judgement and have the courage to express their own objections if and when they are asked to carry out tasks which are morally wrong and violate their conscience.

"Respect for workers' freedom of conscience is a hallmark of a civilised society."

General Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Paul Tully, said he hoped the health board would respect the verdict.

"The result is a tremendous victory for these devoted and caring professional women. This outcome will be a great relief to all midwives, nurses and doctors who may be under pressure to supervise abortion procedures and who are wondering whether the law protects their right to opt out," he said.

"The difference this judgment makes is that hospital managers must recognise that the legal right to opt out of abortion goes beyond those who directly undertake abortions.

"For the sake of good morale and good relations with all members of staff, it is important that the Board move to re-establish normal working relations straight away. The mothers and babies depending on the Southern General Hospital deserve no less."

In a joint statement, Wood and Doogan said they were "delighted" by the ruling: "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."