The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom today rejected the right to conscience claims of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood. Doogan and Wood are midwives who “are practicing Roman Catholics who believe that human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offence against human life.” Doogan and Wood may now be forced to supervise abortions carried out by other members of the hospital staff. Links to the Court’s opinion and a press release are provided below.
The Abortion Act of 1967 (as amended) sets forth a right to conscientious objection. The Act protects persons who have a conscientious objection to participating in abortions allowed by the statute. In this case, the Supreme Court interpreted the scope of the conscientious objection provision narrowly. A lower court had ruled in favor of Doogan and Wood, finding that the exemption extended to “any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy.” The Supreme Court rejected that view and found that the statutory protection only extended to hands-on participation in the treatment, and not supervising the process, which is the role that Doogan and Wood objected to performing.
The Court did not consider the argument that Doogan and Wood’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights and another statute (the Equality Act of 2010), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of religious belief, had been violated. The Court said that those issues were more subject to resolution in a proceeding brought by the midwives in an employment tribunal.