Two Catholic midwives in Scotland claim supervising staff carrying out abortions breaches their human rights. They are seeking a ruling at the Court of Session that their right to conscientious objection under the 1967 Abortion Act extends to refusing to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in the work.
FOR the objection: John Deighan, Parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland
John said the women had afundamental right to make a conscientious objection.
He argues that the case doesn’t focus on the rights and wrongs of abortion but that human rights law already allows them not to participate in abortion. He said: “Under human rights law, they have a right to freedom of conscience and the state should allow for that.”
He said their supervisory role is crucial to allowing the abortion to take place and that it involves the women directly in the process.
John said even aftercare was a problem.
He added: “It is only by virtue of the women going in for an abortion that they need that care anyway.
“By making that aftercare available, you are making the abortion possible.
“The midwives feel they are culpable. We recognise that idea in other parts of law. In a bank robbery, police wouldn’t say to the guy driving the getaway car that it was OK for him to give his friends a lift.
“They would still say there was culpability, that the driver made the robbery possible.”
Supporters of the women say that after Nuremberg, it was agreed that an immoral act wasn’t justified just because it followed the rule of law.
Deighan said: “The ultimate arbiter is the conscience.”
But he insisted: “It is not a moral evaluation of the person, it is a moral evaluation of what you are doing as a moral agent.”
AGAINST: Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society
Terry maintains a win for the women would be a retrograde step.
He said: “It is quite likely that they will win this.
“If they do, it will haveimplications in all kinds of areas of employment. People in all sorts of jobs make these kinds of conscientious objections to doing particular aspects of their job, in relation to gay people or selling alcohol, all sorts of things. It could have a catastrophic effect on the provision of services, not only in abortion butcontraception.
“It has the potential forwidespread disruption in the NHS and will have an impact on women who are exercising their legal right to abortion.”
The exception under the Abortion Act relates only to people directly involved in the abortion, not on the periphery of the procedure.
The women are attempting to widen the exception using the Human Rights Act which has been in force domestically since October 2000.
Sanderson said: “We don’t think it is right for a religiousorganisation to be able to dictate general legal policy.
“Abortion is legal in Scotland and it shouldn’t be up to people with religious objections to be able to restrict it in this way.
“If these women don’t want to be involved in any way inabortion then they should find another job in another areaof nursing