(A guest blog from Xavier Bisits, former President of Cambridge Students for Life)
When Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan signed up to their job at an NHS hospital in Glasgow, they expected that their job would match the description:
“The post holder is responsible for providing clinical leadership and operational management for delivery of the midwifery service within labour ward and obstetric theatre.”
No mention of abortion. They were supporting the midwifery service – a service that is by its very nature life-giving and life-affirming.
Wood and Goodan were outraged when the NHS turned their role into one that made them cooperate with the hospital’s provision of abortion – and decided to take legal action.
Even though the Court of Session in Edinburgh had previously taken their side, last month the Supreme Court ruled against them.
What was the problem? The pair had been employed as labour ward co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
The NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde gave them notice of new duties that required them to supervise and delegate work to staff assisting in the procurement of abortions. The argument of the NHS was that their work did not involve the actual work of providing an abortion.
Such an argument, however, as lawyers acting on their behalf explained, makes a mockery of freedom of conscience. The point of freedom of conscience – especially in medical situations – is to spare objectors from cooperating in an act that they believe to be a fundamental violation of the their beliefs.
To the nurses, overseeing a process of abortion is tantamount to direct participation. History is littered with atrocities that were executed with chilling bureaucratic efficiency; sitting at a desk does not mask involvement. On the contrary, it is part of the overall process – all of which is necessary. And anyone who believes in the unborn’s right to life could hardly take part in that process with a clear conscience.
Speaking after the decision, they said:
“We are both saddened and extremely disappointed with today’s verdict from the Supreme Court and can only imagine the subsequent detrimental consequences that will result from today’s decision on staff of conscience throughout the UK.
“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.”
These nurses deserve our support for their efforts. They put their jobs and professional reputations on the line to secure justice and draw attention to the difficulties that so many medical professionals in the UK face when asked to provide “healthcare” that conflicts with their beliefs.
They may have lost the case but they are a testament to the need to be vigilant about the right to conscientious objection in the UK.