Margaret Forrester was fired by the NHS for giving a booklet on the effects of abortion to a colleague who made no complaint: how deep will this purge go?

Margaret Forrester has launched a human rights challenge against the NHS at the High Court (PA photo)

Is there an NHS policy – secret or simply implicit — of purging health care in this country, not simply of Catholics who will not carry out abortions (see my last post) or refer pregnant women to colleagues who will abort their children, but even of health care professionals who do no more than discuss their objections to abortion, not with “patients” (ie pregnant women, who have nothing wrong with them, so are not actually patients at all) but with colleagues?

Consider, if you have not already done so, the case of Mrs Margaret Forrester, who was a “psychological wellbeing practitioner” before being fired, who has launched a human rights challenge against the NHS at the High Court. She accuses the Central and North West London NHS Trust of breaching her freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

She was “disciplined” (an interesting euphemism, in the circumstances) after discussing her views on abortion with a colleague who worked as a receptionist organising, inter alia, abortion appointments. Her concern was that women seeking medical advice were being routinely offered abortions without fully considering other options. In the course of this conversation, she gave her colleague a copy of a pamphlet entitled Forsaken, in which five women who have had abortions tell their stories, and discuss how abortion has affected them.

A week later Mrs Forrester was summoned for a meeting in which she was interrogated over her views before being suspended. She was moved to other duties in what her lawyers say was a “punishment posting”. When she was questioned during these “disciplinary proceedings” she said she did not regret giving her colleague the leaflet: she was then accused of insubordination. During these proceedings she was told, it seems, that part of the problem with the booklet was that it was “religious in tone”. She was subsequently fired for her reluctance to be shifted to a job which was unrelated to her area of expertise.

It is important to note that she did not give the booklet to an NHS “patient”, nor did Mrs Forrester ever suggest that it should be (though why it shouldn’t be offered to a woman uncertain about whether to proceed with the killing of her own child, I really don’t understand). The conversation between Mrs Forrester and her colleague was friendly and the receptionist did not object to being given the booklet.

According to the Thomas More Legal Centre, which is representing Mrs Forrester, the human rights aspects of the case have been clear from the outset. “Even those who disagree with Margaret Forrester’s views on abortion should support her in this claim,” it says. “If employees of the NHS cannot even discuss the subject of abortion with their colleagues then the NHS has become a dangerously totalitarian organisation with no regard for freedom or diversity.”

“The NHS is harming the interests of patients by attempting to crack down on free discussion,” the centre continues, “If abortion is as problem-free as the NHS claims then there should be no objection to the subject being discussed among health service professionals.”

Mrs Forrester has now lodged a case at the High Court, suing the Central and North West London NHS Trust for breaches of Articles 9, 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The articles, enshrined in the 1998 Human Rights Act, respectively protect the human rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression, and protection from unjust discrimination.

You would have thought, wouldn’t you, that she has an open and shut case? But it’s not just the NHS that doesn’t believe in the human rights of Christians to express their views on such questions. As Deacon Nick points out on Protect the Pope, “based on past cases brought by Christians the likelihood is that the UK judiciary will continue to perpetrate the lie that Christians’ human rights are not being violated in the UK.”

According to Lord Carey, who after a difficult decade as a sometimes uncertain Archbishop of Canterbury (though I was always rather fond of him) is really coming into his own,

Courts in Britain have “consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians”.

They show a “crude” misunderstanding of the faith by treating some believers as “bigots”. He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by state bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong.

“It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good.”

He outlines a string of cases in which he argues that British judges have used a strict reading of equality law to strip the legally established right to freedom of religion of “any substantive effect”.

“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists,” he says. “Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”

Lord Carey is now appealing to the ECHR, from which, ironically, Christians currently seem to be getting more recognition of their rights than they do here. His case will be heard in Strasbourg on September 4, and will deal with the case of two workers forced out of their jobs over the wearing of crosses as a visible manifestation of their faith. It will also include the cases of Gary McFarlane, a counsellor sacked for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples, and also the Christian registrar who wishes not to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

I don’t know whether Margaret Forrester’s case will have gone through the courts here by then; but it could well be another one for Lord Carey. Truly, we have come to a desperate pass in this country: the Pope’s warnings about the “dictatorship” of Erelativism are being borne out more dramatically than, 10 years ago, I would have thought possible. These are strange and sinister times: how will it all look in another 10 years’ time?