Comment | Abortion and conscientious objection: what about human rights? – Elizabeth Prochaska

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Doogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] CSIH 36 – read judgment here and Alasdair Henderson’s commentary here

It is easy to become complacent about women’s reproductive rights in mainland Britain. Compared to our Irish neighbours, women here are able to access their chosen contraceptive, abortion and maternity services with relative ease. When Savita Halappanavar died after she was refused an abortion in Galway, commentators lamented a system where a woman could be told by healthcare staff that she couldn’t have an abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country. We imagined that such events could not happen here. A recent judgment of the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish Court of Appeal) shakes that belief. Of most concern is that the court failed to engage with the human rights implications of its decision.

Our abortion law is found in the Abortion Act 1967. Section 1 makes abortion lawful only when it has been authorised by two doctors who attest that continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or where the child would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. In effect, all abortions, save those for fetal abnormality, are performed on the basis that there is a threat to the woman’s physical or mental integrity as a result of pregnancy. Section 4 excuses a person from ‘participating in any treatment’ under the Act if they express a conscientious objection to abortion. As the Abortion Rights campaign points out, the law gives doctors control over women’s informed choices about their pregnancy that can lead to damaging delays in accessing abortion services.

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Conscientious objection to abortion: Catholic midwives win appeal

human-foetus_1666004cDoogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] CSIH 36 – read judgment here

The Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish civil court of appeal) ruled last week that two midwives from Glasgow could not be required to delegate to, supervise or support staff on their labour ward who were involved in abortions. 

The ruling makes it clear that the conscientious objection provision in s.4 of the Abortion Act 1967 has very broad scope. This probably means that the General Medical Council (GMC), the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will all need to change their guidance on the subject, since the existing versions take a much narrower view. This judgment affects England and Wales as well as Scotland (since the Act covers all three countries), but not Northern Ireland.

The facts of the case, and the original decision of Lady Smith in the Outer House of the Court of Session are covered in our previous blog post here.

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Strasbourg rules against UK on BA crucifix issue, but rejects three other religious rights challenges

amfhindssilvercrucifixchainb001t9box8Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom – read judgment

The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele,  a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).

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No hunting on my land, please: but only if my objections are based on conscience

Chabauty v France 4 October 2012 – read judgment

I have posted previously on cases involving the ethical objection of landowners to being forced to allow hunting over their property.

These objections have generally found favour with the Strasbourg Court in the balancing of private and public interests under the right to property.  Mr Chabauty puts the issue into another perspective. He also complained that he was unable to have his land removed from the control of an approved municipal hunters’ association. The difference was – and this proved to be critical to the outcome of the case –  Mr Chabauty is not himself against hunting on ethical grounds. Since no conscience was underlying his Convention complaint, the Court found it not to be disproportionate for the French state to require small landowners to pool their hunting grounds. As such, there had been no violation of Article 1 Protocol 1 or Article 14. Continue reading

Hunting, animals, and the evolving landscape of rights

Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions,  the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.

Background

In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:

“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading