The European Court of Human Rights has declined to hear the case of two Swedish nurses denied midwife jobs because of their refusal to perform abortions.
“We are very disappointed by the Court’s decision not to take up the cases of Ms Grimmark and Ms Steen. A positive judgment from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of Alliance Defending Freedom International.
The court, based in Strasbourg, France, declined to hear their cases on March 12.
“Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers. Although freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental right in almost every other European country, the decision today marks a missed opportunity to uphold this important protection in Sweden,” Clarke continued.
Though the court declined to hear the nurses’ cases, a committee ruled that the government’s refusal to employ the women as midwives was “not disproportionate or unjustified,” saying that since Sweden’s national health system performs abortions, the government has a right “to request that employees perform all duties inherent to the post.”
Linda Steen started her studies to become a midwife in 2014. According to her application, in March 2015 she informed the childbirth and delivery section at the women’s clinic in Nyköping, Sweden, where she was studying, that she would be unable to assist in carrying out abortions. She was told that she could not start at the clinic unless she agreed to perform abortions.
Steen sought a job interview at Mälar Hospital in Eskilstuna, but according to the application, the Human Resources Department of the County canceled the interview as the County had “a common policy not to employ midwives who would not perform abortions.”
Ellinor Grimmark’s situation was similar. After studying to become a midwife, she applied for a job at Värnamo Hospital, but when recruiters at the hospital found out she was unwilling to perform abortions, they withdrew a previous offer of employment.
Religious freedom advocates have argued that midwives – who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth – often choose their profession because they want to bring new life into the world, and they should not be forced to end life against their beliefs.
For her part, Grimmark said that is exactly why she chose to study to be a midwife.
“I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same,” Grimmark said.
Ultimately, Grimmark charged that three different medical clinics in Sweden’s southern Joenkoeping County unjustly denied her employment because of her objections to assisting in abortions.
In November 2015, a district court said her right to freedom of opinion and expression was not violated. She was required to pay the local government’s legal costs, nearly $106,000.
After losing their cases in Swedish courts, both women lodged their complaints with the ECHR during 2017, alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There is no appeals process for the ECHR’s decision to decline to hear the case. The Court hears only 6 percent of cases brought before it, ADF International says.
Sweden has one of the highest abortion rates in Western Europe, with approximately 19 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2018 according to government figures.
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