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The Catholic midwives case – a victory for freedom of conscience

The ruling in Glasgow will effect the NHS south of the border, too

By on Friday, 26 April 2013

A midwife and expectant mother.

A midwife and expectant mother.

It was good to learn from Catholic World News on Wednesday that the Appeals Court in Edinburgh has now ruled that in the case of two Catholic midwives, they have the right to refuse indirect involvement in abortions. This ruling made it on to the 6 o’clock news on Radio 4 that same day, so it is seen as of some significance. Last year, healthcare officials in Glasgow had ruled that the two midwives, Mary Doogan aged 58 and Concepta Wood aged 52, who worked as labour ward coordinators the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, should be required to schedule and coordinate abortion coverage, on the grounds that this would not violate their conscience as they would not be directly participating in the abortions themselves.

An earlier appeal by the midwives had failed when Lady Smith stated at the time that “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.”

The two midwives disagreed with her, understandably. To be involved at any stage in the whole deadly process of abortion, whether assisting directly or, in this case, coordinating nurses’ schedules so that others would do it instead, is to be complicit in the killing of unborn life. I once knew a hospital orderly who refused to clean the operating room where an abortion was due to take place; he was relieved of his duties. And what of secretaries who make the appointments, chemists who hand out the abortifacient pills or the taxi drivers who might carry out the transport? Being involved at any level might carry its own sense of unease, reluctance and wrong-doing.

In this case, as reported in the Guardian, the Edinburgh court ruled that the “conscience clause” of the 1967 Abortion Act protected health care personnel against any compulsory involvement in the process. The wording goes, “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 right is given because it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant.” Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow called the ruling a “victory for freedom of conscience and for common sense.” And so it is.

It is also likely to have ramifications for the NHS this side of the border. Dr David Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, pointed out that this ruling contradicts the General Medical Council’s latest guidance for Britain’s doctors, which came into force only on Monday and which stated that “rights to conscientious objection were limited to refusal to participate in the procedure itself”. All pro-life personnel in this country will have watched this case very carefully. There will be repercussions.

At the same time as this court case in Edinburgh, I have been trying not to follow the case of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphian abortionist from the “house of horrors” as it has been described. I am cowardly; the thought of what went on in his clinic is almost unbearable to think about. A sober and sensible article on Life Site News by Judie Brown, entitled “The worst thing about the Gosnell trial: the public’s total apathy”, states the case better than I could: “We hear about a man who stored the tiny feet of his victims in glass jars but…we are not driven to act or to protect the innocent or to oppose abortion. Abortion has been around for 40 years now, and face it, every once in a while an abortionist makes a mistake, gets caught and sometimes goes on trial. But life goes on. Well, not really! Life does not go on and has not for more than 50 million human beings in America.” Brown concludes, “Gosnell’s story is a horror; he is in many ways the poster boy for murder and mayhem in our nation. He has terrorised and killed babies, maimed women, and only God knows what else with impunity since 1972…The Gosnell trial is about apathy, that dismisses humanity for the sake of convenience.”

Is there so much difference between what went on in that hellish Philadelphian abortuary, as described in court by the nurses who worked there, and what goes on behind closed doors in more sanitised and better regulated surroundings over here?