Published On: Tue, Feb 2nd, 2016

Sweden: ADF defends midwife’s right to opt-out of abortion, protest freedom of conscience

ADF International has filed an expert briefin support of Swedish midwife Linda Steen, who objected to assisting with abortions for reasons of conscience and was therefore denied employment. ADF International allied attorney Ruth Nordström represents Steen in a claim filed with the district court of Nyköping in Sweden.

The case has similarities to another midwife’s case, in which ADF International is also involved. In November 2015, a Swedish court ruled against Ellinor Grimmark, who objected to participating in abortions. Because of her objection, three hospitals refrained from hiring her. The judgment requires her to bear the costs of all parties to the proceedings, which amounts to more than 100,000 Euros ($108,545).

“Sweden is facing a serious human rights issue: Another midwife has been forced to start legal proceedings because she will not carry out abortions,” said Robert Clarke, a British human rights expert and director of European advocacy with ADF International. “These midwives trained to bring life into the world. Now they are being punished because they refuse to do something they believe to be morally wrong.”

“Freedom of conscience is protected by the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Sweden has agreed to adhere,” Clarke added. “In addition, it is the only country of the 28 in the European Union that does not have either a general conscience provision or specific laws protecting medical staff.”

photo Pawel Loj

photo Pawel Loj

In March 2015, the Women’s Clinic of Nyköping denied Steen employment as a midwife because she would not carry out abortions. After explaining her position to the nursing unit manager, she received a letter from the management stating, “It is not our policy or our approach to leave any opening for a conscience clause. We have neither the ability nor intention to work with such exceptions.”

The manager went even further by contacting another potential employer about Steen’s convictions. As a result, that employer cancelled her interview.

Similar arguments barred Grimmark from employment with three different clinics in 2013 and 2014. ADF International allied attorney Ruth Nordström represented her in a claim at the District Court of Jönköping in Sweden. The court agreed that the midwife’s rights had been infringed; however, it concluded that forcing her to participate in abortions would be of greater importance. The court’s ruling also implied that Grimmark and her family ought to pay more than 100,000 Euros in legal costs. ADF International supported her decision to appeal the court’s judgment.

“This is a phenomenal amount considering the wider public significance of a case like this,” Clarke explained. “Sweden is obliged to adhere to international law and the ruling was clearly against freedom of conscience.”

The ADF International expert brief filed in the Steen case highlights a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that states that “no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”

“Being pro-abortion should not be a requirement for employment as a midwife,” Clarke said. “The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place. Medical centers should respect that desire and conviction.”

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