The British Judiciary has removed a person’s right to Conscience

Logically challenged

Catholic midwives must supervise abortions, Supreme Court decides

Midwifery sisters - Mary Doogan and Connie Wood

Catholic midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood lose case against being made to supervise other staff carrying out abortions

By Patrick Sawer 17 Dec 2014

Two Catholic midwives who refused to take part in any abortion procedures have lost their legal battle to be treated as ‘conscientious objectors’.

The UK’s highest court overturned a previous ruling made in favour of the two midwives, after a Scottish health authority urged it to overturn last year’s decision of the Court of Session, in Edinburgh, in the case of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood.

The ruling is likely to mean that Ms Doogan and Ms Wood will now have to supervise abortions carried out by other staff, as part of their terms of employment, although they will still be free to refuse to carry out the terminations themselves.

The case centres on the scope of the right to conscientious objection under the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”.

The issue, decided by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, was whether Ms Doogan and Ms Wood’s entitlement to conscientious objection includes the right to refuse to supervise staff in the provision of care to patients undergoing abortions.

As conscientious objectors, the two senior midwifery sisters have had no direct role in pregnancy terminations, but they claim they should also be entitled to refuse to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in the procedures or providing care to patients during the process.

Edinburgh’s Court of Session judges had ruled that 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 health board argued, however, that conscientious objection is the right only to refuse to take part in activities that directly bring about the termination of a pregnancy.

Its appeal was allowed by Supreme Court justices Lady Hale, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed, Lord Hughes and Lord Hodge.

Announcing the Supreme Court’s decision, deputy president Lady Hale said of Ms Doogan and Ms Wood: “Both are practising Roman Catholics who believe that human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offence against human life.

“They also believe that any involvement in the process of termination renders them accomplices to and culpable for that grave offence.”

She added that the case was about the “precise scope” of the right of conscientious objection to taking part in abortion.

The only question for the court was one of “pure statutory construction” – the meaning of the words “to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”.

Lady Hale said that “participate” in her view meant taking part in a “hands-on capacity”.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) had warned of the implications for termination services if the Court of Session decision was allowed to stand.

The two women had won an appeal last April followed a ruling against them in 2012 in their action against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

In the previous appeal ruling in favour of the women, Lady Dorrian, with Lords Mackay and McEwan, 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 that decision, Ms Doogan, 58, and Ms Wood, 52, said the ruling affirmed the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would “violate their conscience”.

The women were employed as labour ward coordinators at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. At the time of the original ruling, Ms Doogan had been absent from work due to ill health since March 2010 and Ms Wood had been transferred to other work.

Both registered their conscientious objection to participation in pregnancy terminations under the Abortion Act several years ago, but became concerned when medical terminations were moved to the labour ward in 2007.

They said being called upon to supervise and support staff providing care to women having an abortion would amount to “participation in treatment” and would breach their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the original ruling against them, the judge, Lady Smith, found that the women were sufficiently removed from involvement in pregnancy terminations to afford them appropriate respect for their beliefs.

Ms Doogan and Ms Wood said they were “saddened and extremely disappointed” with Wednesday’s verdict.

The two midwives said in a statement: “Despite it having been recognised that the number of abortions on the labour ward at our hospital is in fact a tiny percentage of the workload, which in turn could allow the accommodation of conscientious objection with minimal effort, this judgment, with its constraints and narrow interpretation, has resulted in the provision of a conscience clause which now in practice is meaningless for senior midwives on a labour ward.”

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow also criticised the court’s ruling, saying: “I am dismayed and disappointed at this decision of the Supreme Court which fundamentally impacts on the right of every citizen in this country to follow their conscience in the workplace.

“This was never a case about the rights and wrongs of abortion. Nor was it a case about religion. Rather it was a case that centred on the right of ordinary citizens to have their conscience respected in society and at work. All of society is a poorer, less respectful and less tolerant place as a result of this decision.”

But the “landmark” ruling was welcomed by the RCM and bpas.

In a statement the two bodies said they intervened in the case because they believed “such a broad and unprecedented interpretation of conscientious objection, applicable across the UK, would effectively have enabled a tiny number of staff opposed to abortion to make women’s care undeliverable in many NHS settings”.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas, said: “We welcome this ruling. bpas supports the right to refuse to work in abortion care, not least because women deserve better than being treated by those who object to their choice. But the law as it stands already provides health care workers with these protections.

“Extending this protection to tasks not directly related to the abortion would be to the detriment of women needing to end a pregnancy and the health care staff committed to providing that care. There are enough barriers in the way of women who need an abortion without further obstacles being thrown in their way.”

Gillian Smith, RCM director for Scotland, said: “This ruling is sensible and both women and midwives will welcome it. The ruling gives extensive definition to complex clinical and other situations, in regard to whether conscientious objection applies or not.

“Midwives and other clinicians will benefit from this ruling’s clarity and women will be able to continue to exercise their choice over their reproductive rights.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which still employs the two women, said it was “pleased” with the judgement, adding: “This ruling gives clarity on the roles and responsibilities of midwifery staff under the Abortion Act.”

The National Secular Society also welcomed the ruling, stating that it clarified the limits of conscientious objection in abortion treatment.

Keith Porteous Wood, the society’s executive director, said, “Had the case gone the other way it might have opened the way for the broadening of conscience clauses in many other areas of life – much to the detriment of those who don’t share the religious or ethical views of those exercising their conscience.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11298385/Catholic-midwives-lose-Supreme-Court-case-over-objection-to-abortions.html

AND ON A SIDE NOTE SOME ARTICLES OF INTEREST:

abortion5

Government refuses to release gender abortion figures

The Department of Health has refused to release information about which immigrant communities appear more likely to abort unwanted girls.

By Hayley Dixon 08 Mar 2013

The Government department claims that it is not in the “public interest” to release a list they have compiled of nationalities whose mothers tend to have far more boys than girls, which is an indicator of illegal sex specific terminations.

The news comes after ministers admitted that illegal abortion on the grounds of gender may be taking place in Britain within immigrant communities.

Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, criticised the “illegal and morally wrong” practice following a Daily Telegraph investigation.

After this newspaper received information that the procedures were becoming increasingly common for cultural and social reasons, undercover reporters filmed doctors offering women terminations based on gender.

Last night campaigners condemned the Department of Health’s decision to keep their figures a secret, claiming they were more concerned about stigmatising certain ethnic communities then openly challenging the problem.

Ranjit Bilkhu, an anti-gender abortion campaigner from a Sikh Punjabi community in Birmingham, told The Daily Mail: “I think the Government is afraid to publish this because it might highlight particular communities that it doesn’t want to marginalise. I know it happens in my community.’

The practice of aborting on grounds of gender is illegal, but last year nine clinics were found to be carrying out the terminations.

The Department of Health has analysed boy-girl ratios of all births between 2007 and 2011, and broken the figures down according to the mother’s birth country.

Across the country, 105 boys are born per 100 girls. For some nationalities this figure is as high as 108 boys born per 100 girls, which experts claim is unnatural.

However, health ministers claim they need to do more work to ensure the high ratios are down to natural variation before they can release the information.

The practice of aborting unborn babies on the basis of sex has long been considered a problem in areas of India and China, where boys are sometimes considered favourable for cultural or economic reasons.

51 MPs from all parties have now signed an Early Day Motion which calls upon officials to “record the gender of babies aborted… so statistical evidence of crime cannot be hidden”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9916953/Government-refuses-to-release-gender-abortion-figures.html

Monitor abortions by gender to protect unborn girls, say MPs

MPs will tomorrow urge the Government to introduce monitoring of the sex of aborted babies to establish whether or not British couples are being granted terminations illegally on grounds of gender.

By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor – 15 Apr 2013

It follows an investigation by The Telegraph last year which uncovered evidence of doctors agreeing to remove foetuses simply because they were either male or female.

Earl Howe, the health minister, disclosed recently that Government analysis of birth figures showed that illegal “sex-selection abortion” could be taking place within some immigrant communities in the UK.

But the Department of Health has refused to release a list of nationalities whose mothers tend to have far more boys than girls, arguing that it is not in the “public interest” to do so.

Now a cross-party group of MPs has launched a parliamentary drive to persuade the Government to record the gender of aborted foetuses.

Fiona Bruce, the Conservative backbencher, and Labour’s Jim Dobbin, are jointly introducing a private bill to be debated tomorrow, with the support of dozens of MPs.

Mrs Bruce, who is also chairing a parliamentary inquiry into abortion on grounds of disability, said: “It is a tragedy that in some countries the words ‘it’s a girl’ are not always a source of joy but of danger; the illegal abortion of baby girls and the resultant imbalance in the number of young men and women in certain parts of these countries is surely something which no one in this country can condone.

“What should cause real distress is that babies are being aborted because they are the wrong gender.

“The most dangerous place for girl should not be in her mother’s womb.

“After all the endeavours on the part of successive governments to outlaw and end discrimination, the fact that a baby could be aborted just because she is a girl (or, indeed, a boy) remains the most basic form of discrimination, and concerns about it cross communities, cultures and countries.

“We need to be willing to open up a dialogue about this in the UK and to ensure that that dialogue is properly evidence-based – hence the call for the Department of Health to take action.”

Earl Howe’s disclosure followed a parliamentary question by Lord Alton of Liverpool, a cross-bench peer and prominent Roman Catholic.

Officials analysed boy-girl ratios of all births between 2007 and 2011, and broken the figures down according to the mother’s birth country.

Across the country, 105 boys are born per 100 girls. For some nationalities this figure is as high as 108 boys born per 100 girls.

Ministers acknowledge that there are disparities but argue that more research is needed to know whether thy can be explained by natural variations.

But campaign groups claim the Government is reluctant to publish the list for fear of marginalising some communities.

Sex-selection abortions are thought to be behind a growing demographic imbalance in several countries where baby boys are more highly prized for cultural or economic reasons.

In China, where the official one child policy has been in operation for decades, there are now 37 million more males than females in China – the equivalent of the entire population of Poland.

In India, which has around 1.2 billion people, the number of girls has declined significantly in the last decade in comparison with boys.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9995407/Monitor-abortions-by-gender-to-protect-unborn-girls-say-MPs.html

The abortion of unwanted girls taking place in the UK

Illegal abortion on the grounds of gender may be taking place in Britain within immigrant communities, ministers have admitted for the first time after an official analysis of birth statistics.

By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent – 10 Jan 2013

The Government was on Thursday night urged to open an inquiry after officials found signs that birth rates for girls and boys vary noticeably according to where their mothers were born.

A health minister said that these differences in rates of male and female births among mothers of certain nationalities may “fall outside the range considered possible without intervention”.

It forms the first official statistical evidence potentially backing up concerns that sex-selection abortions are being carried out in Britain.

Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, last year criticised the “illegal and morally wrong” practice following a Daily Telegraph investigation into the issue.

After this newspaper received information that the procedures were becoming increasingly common for cultural and social reasons, undercover reporters filmed doctors offering women terminations based on gender.

As a result of the investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service is considering criminal charges against doctors in three cases.

The practice of aborting unborn babies on the basis of sex has long been considered a problem in areas of India and China, where boys are sometimes considered favourable for cultural or economic reasons.

There has been little official research on whether the practice is carried out in some of Britain’s immigrant communities. The Government said its new analysis was undertaken after the Council of Europe demanded statistics on the issue of whether more boys than girls are born to mothers of certain nationalities.

Earl Howe, a health minister, disclosed the Government’s preliminary statistics in answer to a parliamentary question by Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbench peer and former MP who campaigns against abortion.

“While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the calendar years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers’ country of birth,” the Tory minister said.

“For the majority of groups, this variation is the result of small numbers of births and does not persist between years. However, for a very small number of countries of birth there are indications that birth ratios may differ from the UK as a whole and potentially fall outside of the range considered possible without intervention.”

The evidence is preliminary and, therefore, it is still possible that the differing birth ratios are the result of “natural variation”. Lord Howe said officials will continue to “monitor” the issue and analyse the data.

He rejected Lord Alton’s request for data to be collected on the sex of unborn babies at the time of abortion. The minister said recording the gender of foetuses “raises ethical and clinical issues”.

Last night, Lord Alton said the presence of sex-selective abortion in the UK could be a product of terminations becoming too “routine”.

“Abortion has become so routine in Britain with 600 taking place every day that people have accepted the mantra that it’s just a matter of choice but that’s not what the law says,” he said. “There is a fundamental debate to take place here.”

He said the practice may have been imported from areas of the world where it is more common, including India and China “where sex-selective abortions have taken place on an industrial scale”.

A Department of Health spokesman said any abortion based on sex selection is “illegal and morally wrong”.

“UK birth ratios are within normal limits,” he said. “However, we continue to closely monitor ratios and we are in the process of analysing preliminary data. If anyone has evidence of sex-selection abortions being performed in specific cases, we will refer them to the police to investigate.”

A study by Oxford University academics has previously found evidence that suggested Indian women giving birth in Britain were terminating more female than male unborn babies between 1990 and 2005.

In Canada, Dr Rajendra Kale, the editor of a medical journal, last year called for doctors to withhold the sex of unborn babies from their mothers until 30 weeks into pregnancy to stop “female feticide”.

He cited a study suggesting “evidence of a clear son preference among south-east Asian immigrants to Canada”, with male-biased birth ratios among Chinese, Korean and Indian parents.

Last year, the Council of Europe recommended that member states, including Britain, stop telling parents the gender of their baby because of concerns that this was encouraging sex-selection abortions.

Many hospitals have stopped giving parents information on the gender of their babies until late in the pregnancy.

However, blood tests that disclose the sex of a foetus are widely available on the internet or abroad.

Abortions for non-medical reasons are legal until 24 weeks, but terminations on grounds of sex of the foetus are illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act.

In 2010 there were 189,574 terminations in England and Wales, an eight per cent increase in the past decade.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9794577/The-abortion-of-unwanted-girls-taking-place-in-the-UK.html

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