Wednesday 29 February 2012

Midwives must take charge of abortion says court

Judgment was handed down today in the case of two senior midwives from Glasgow who have a conscientious objection to abortion. The midwives have been told that they must accept the decision of their hospital management that they must oversee other midwives performing abortions on the labour ward.

Lady Smith, sitting in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, ruled that the senior midwives’ role is not covered by the conscience clause in the Abortion Act.

Commenting on the judgment, Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, told the media earlier today:
“We are very disappointed by the judgment. SPUC has supported the midwives in bringing their case, and will now be considering their further legal options with them."
The senior midwives argued that their legal right included not directing or assisting other midwives performing abortions.

Both the midwives have served for over 20 years at the Southern General Hospital, caring for many thousands of mothers and babies. The case arose when the hospital demanded that all senior midwives must take responsibility for overseeing mid-term and late term abortions. Since 2008 the hospital has insisted that these abortions, mostly for suspected disability in the foetus, must be conducted on the labour ward, rather than the gynaecology ward where most early abortions are performed.

The midwives in the case, Miss Mary Doogan and Mrs Connie Wood, argued that they had never been required to supervise abortion procedures in the past, and that the hospital was asking them to be morally, medically and legally responsible for abortions. They argued that this conflicted with their profound objection to abortions and with the right to opt-out that is protected in the 1967 Abortion Act.

The case was subject of a protracted grievance procedure before coming to court in January.

The late abortion procedure, called “Medical Termination of Pregnancy” or MTOP, entails the mother being given drugs to induce labour, and then having to go through labour and deliver the baby.  In more advanced pregnancies the baby is killed first by an ultrasound-guided lethal injection while still in the womb.

The hospital’s labour ward delivers 6000 babies every year, but is also required to provide about 1-3 MTOPs each week – a number which has increased since a special unit for diagnosing disability in the womb was transferred to the Southern General Hospital in January 2010.

The conscience clause was included in the Abortion Act to assure MPs that no-one would be forced to participate in abortions.

The midwives were represented in court by David Johnston, QC of Axiom Advocates and Marie Clark of Arnot Manderson Advocates.

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