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Top barrister dismayed by ruling against Glasgow midwives

Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan with Paul Tully and John Smeaton of SPUC outside the Supreme Court (Photo: SPUC)

A leading Catholic barrister has described a Supreme Court ruling against two Scottish midwives who refused to be involved with abortion procedures as “very worrying.”

Following the ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday Neil Addison, director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, said: “The judgment explicitly accepts that there are two possible interpretations of the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act, a ‘broad’ interpretation and a ‘narrow’ interpretation and the court then goes on to deliberately choose the most narrow interpretation without providing any legal or jurisprudential justification for that choice.  

“The effect will be to make it very difficult or impossible for nurses or midwives with conscientious objections to apply for managerial positions in the NHS. Especially worrying is the fact that the judgment states that the conscientious objection clause does not apply to doctors asked to sign forms authorising an abortion.”

He continued: “The only chink of light is that the Supreme Court does accept that requiring management of abortions could constitute indirect discrimination under the Equality Act but that is likely to simply lead to more litigation. It is not a good result for the NHS, nurses or freedom.”

Last year, at the Court of Session, Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan won the right on conscientious grounds to refuse to assist with abortions at any point in the procedure.

But NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde appealed the case and the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in favour of the trust.

Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, the midwives in the case, commented on the judgment: “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 Britain.

“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.”