BY DEACON NICK DONNELLY,
Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood, Scottish Catholic midwives, with the support of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child [SPUC], have won their appeal against a ruling by Judge Lady Smith that would have forced them to act against their consciences by making them supervise and support staff and patients involved in abortions. Lady Dorrian, sitting with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan, over turned Lady Smith’s judgement, ruling that:
“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. ”
This overturns Lady Smith’s ruling that stated:
‘”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.”
At the time Archbishop Conti expressed his concern at Lady Smith’s judgement:
‘“I view this judgement with deep concern. I wish to put on record my admiration for the courage of the midwives who have, at very great cost to themselves, fought to uphold the right to follow one’s conscience. It is fundamental to the functioning of society that all citizens act in accordance with an informed conscience.
“Any law or judgement which fails to recognise this contradicts that most basic freedom and duty which we all have as human beings, namely to follow our conscience and act accordingly.”
He added that any ‘assault on this principle undermines the very basis of the law itself and society’s moral cohesion, which the law should seek to guarantee.’
At the original case before Judge Lady Smith Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood made the following submission through their lawyers:
‘”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 maintain that they hold the belief that that their involvement in the process of termination is wrongful and an offence against God and the teachings of their church.’
Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood claimed that the NHS’refusal to recognise their entitlement to conscientious objection was unreasonable and violated their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) guaranteeing the right to freedom of thought,conscience and religion. They sought a legal judgment that their entitlement to conscientious objection to taking part in abortions in terms of the 1967 Abortion Act includes the right to refuse to delegate,supervise and support staff involved in such work.
According to the BBC during their appeal against Lady Smith ruling their counsel Gerry Moynihan QC told the appeal court ‘that in so far as the women were part of a team, their right to conscientious objection extended to the whole of their duties, save for the provision that there was an obligation to participate in life-saving measures.
He said there was clear legal authority that the right to conscientious objection was intended to apply to the whole team whose involvement was necessary to achieve the procedure.
Mr Moynihan said that because the midwives let the administration know of their objection in advance, the health board could manage its staff as a whole to respect their right to conscientious objection.
“The administrative convenience of the health board is irrelevant because the right is a balance between facilitating abortion while respecting the genuine conscientious objection of medical, nursing and ancillary staff,” he said.
Mr Moynihan told the court that the woman said there were “work-around arrangements” to cover their objections prior to 2007.
He argued that “the dividing line” over what was exempt ought to be an individual’s conscience and not a bureaucrat saying that was not in the literal meaning of participation.
Protect the Pope comment: Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood have paid a high price in being forced by the NHS to legally defend their conscientious right not to participate in the killing of unborn children through abortion. For five years they and their families have had to bear the stress, disappointment, and anxiety of going through the legal system.
Protect the Pope wrote the following at the time of Lady Smith’s harsh judgement, ‘Catholics Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood trained to be midwives to use their medical skills to bring healthy babies into the world and care for mothers, not to cooperate in the killing of babies. Lady Smith is committing a grave injustice by forcing Catholic midwives to manage staff killing babies and care for women who have decided to kill their children. To do such management and such caring is to cooperate in intrinsic evil, and is a mortal sin. Catholics Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood trained to be midwives to use their medical skills to bring healthy babies into the world and care for mothers, not to cooperate in the killing of babies. Lady Smith is committing a grave injustice by forcing Catholic midwives to manage staff killing babies and care for women who have decided to kill their children. To do such management and such caring is to cooperate in intrinsic evil, and is a mortal sin.’
The Catholic community of the United Kingdom owe Mary and Concepta, and SPUC who backed their legal cases, our gratitude, and continued support, for defending all our human rights to live and work according to our consciences, informed by the teachings of our Catholic Faith. You are both an example of the courage and commitment needed to stand up for the Faith during this time of increasing intolerance towards Roman Catholics. God bless you and your families.
Statement by Connie Wood and Mary Doogan:
“Connie and I are absolutely delighted with todays judgement from the Court of Session, which recognises and upholds our rights as labour ward midwifery sisters to withdraw from participating in any treatment that would result in medical termination of pregnancy.
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. It is with great relief we can now return to considerations that are all to do with child birth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters.
Lastly, we wish to thank the many individuals the length and breadth of Britain and, indeed, further afield, who have given us great help and support throughout the duration of our dispute with GG&CHB. Though too numerous to individually highlight, special mention has to be given to both sets of family, without whose support we could not have taken on this case, to SPUC and to our very talented legal team whose expertise and support we could not have done without. Thank you to each and everyone.”
Statement from Paul Tully, SPUC’s general secretary:
“Today’s verdict is very welcome and we congratulate Connie and Mary on their tenacity and deep sense of professionalism. We hope that the Health Board will abide by this verdict and enable life to return to normal for Connie and Mary. 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.
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.
“Mary Doogan and Connie Wood deserve the fullest support and gratitude of their medical colleagues for resisting the pressure to give up their legal protections. It is important to recognise that their stand applies to people of all faiths and none: the right to refuse to participate in abortion is based on conscientious objection, whether religious or purely moral, so it applies to everyone”.
“They are anxious to get back to normal after the protracted internal grievance procedure and legal action. This dispute has seriously disrupted their professional lives over the past 4 years and more”, concluded Mr Tully.
Statement from Archbishop Philip Tartaglia,
The most senior Catholic in Glasgow, who is also president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said the appeal ruling was “a victory for freedom of conscience and for common sense”.
Commending the women on their courage, Tartaglia said he hoped other anti-abortion health workers would take their lead.
“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,” the archbishop said.
“I hope that many pro-life health professionals will take heart from this judgment 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.”