A Catholic nurse threatened with the sack for refusing to work on an abortion ward has won her case without going to court.
The staff nurse, who does not wish to be named, persuaded the NHS trust that employs her that her right to conscientious objection was protected by Section 4 of the 1967 Abortion Act and that she should not be forced to work in a Termination of Pregnancy clinic attached to the hospital.
Neil Addison of the Thomas More Legal Centre, the barrister who represented the nurse, also informed the trust in a letter that her conviction that human life began from conception was a “philosophical” and religious belief protected by the 2010 Equality Act and also by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
He warned the trust that any attempt to pressure the nurse to change her mind or to suggest to her that her career prospects might suffer would breach laws against harassment and discrimination.
After taking legal advice, the trust, which is in the Midlands, has now dropped its threat of dismissal and assigned the nurse to alternative duties.
The nurse, a married mother-of-two who is in her early 40s, said her ordeal began when she doubled the work she undertook at the hospital from 15 to 30 hours after her three-year-old son began at nursery.
She said she was not informed when she agreed to extra hours that she would be required to fill in at the hospital’s abortion clinic.
Within two months, however, her name was added to the rota and she complained that she could not work in the clinic in good conscience.
Although she was raised a Catholic, she said the sight of an unborn child aborted at 23 weeks when she was working in a hospital in 1999 had also left her convinced that abortion was wrong.
“It is a form of killing, to be honest,” she said. “That’s how I view it. I’m not being judgmental about people. I know there are cases of rape and all sorts of reasons why people do it to end the life of their child, because some way or another they are in a predicament and they see no way out, I suppose, but I just don’t want to participate in it.”
She said that it was pointed out to her that she would not be required to perform the act of abortion but only to prepare women for the procedure.
But she said that in her view that would make her culpable in an act she objected to on grounds of conscience.
The nurse also said that it was put to her by colleagues that other Catholics worked on the abortion ward, one of whom also served as Eucharistic minister in her local church.
“I said: ‘I can’t be responsible for other people’s beliefs. I can only speak for myself’,” the nurse explained.
Mr Addison said that in his opinion the nurse was clearly protected by the conscientious objection clause of the 1967 Act.
He said it was right for nurses to provide medical care on general NHS wards for women who had undergone abortions. But he said to prepare a woman for an abortion would be actively participating in the procedure.
This particular nurse, he said, was being asked to work “unambiguously in the Termination of Pregnancy clinic”.
“It has got to be protected by the [Abortion] Act,” Mr Addison said.
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