Two Roman Catholic midwives have taken the NHS to court, claiming their conscientious objections to abortions have been ignored.
Mary Doogan, 57, and Concepta Wood, 51, who work at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, argue that being forced to supervise staff taking part in the procedures violates their human rights.
Mrs Wood says the issue has caused her “considerable distress and anxiety” resulting in a transfer request, whilst Miss Doogan has been off through ill health for more than a year due to the row.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board said it recognised their right not to participate in abortions but believed it was lawful for the women to supervise and support staff nursing women undergoing terminations.
The dispute has remained unresolved after a series of appeals, and their judicial review hearing is now at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The midwives’ petition presented to the court states: “They hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offence against human life.
“They hold a belief that involvement in the process of termination, including the facilitation of the process, renders them accomplices to, and culpable for, the grave offence” and “that their involvement in the process is wrongful and an offence against God”.
After talks with management broke down, the health board rejected the midwives’ request that they would not be required to delegate, supervise or support other staff conducting abortions.
The pair said the refusal to recognise their entitlement to conscientious objection was unreasonable under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Brian Napier QC, representing the Health Board, asserted that the outcome of the judicial review would impact other hospitals throughout the UK.
Last year two Roman Catholic nurses won a battle after they were told they could not refuse to work at an abortion clinic. The hospital backed down after the nurses’ lawyer pointed out that they were protected by the 2010 Equality Act.
The judge will make a ruling on the midwives’ case at a later date.