English nurse wins clash over conscience rights without going to court

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • April 3, 2012

MANCHESTER, England - A Catholic nurse in central England has won a battle over her right to conscientiously object to involvement in abortions.

The nurse, who asked not to be named because of fear of reprisal from her hospital employer, convinced National Health Service managers that her right to conscientious objection was protected by law.

Without anyone going to court, the managers dropped their threat to dismiss the nurse because of her refusal to work in an abortion clinic attached to the hospital in the British Midlands, she told Catholic News Service April 2.

Managers pointed out to her that she was not being required to perform an abortion but only to prepare women for the procedure, she explained, and that other Catholics -- including a eucharistic minister at the local parish -- were working in the abortion clinic.

"I said, 'I can't be responsible for other people's beliefs. I can only speak for myself,'" said the nurse, a married mother of two in her early 40s.

"I stood by that," she added. "I said, 'I am not happy to do it and I'm standing by my principles.'"

The woman's ordeal began when she began working additional hours in 2011 after her 3-year-old son started attending nursery school.

The nurse said she was not told that she would be required to fill in for abortion clinic staff taking time off and that within two months her name appeared on the clinic's roster.

When she refused to work in the clinic, she was told by managers that she faced dismissal.

She said she turned for advice to her parish priest, who referred her to the Thomas More Legal Centre in Warrington, England. The center offers free legal assistance to Christians claiming to be victims of discrimination and harassment because of their faith.

Neil Addison, the center's director, said he wrote to hospital officials explaining that the nurse's conscience rights were protected under the 1967 Abortion Act, and officials quickly backed down.

He also said that the woman's view that human life begins at conception was a "philosophical" belief protected by the 2010 Equality Act and also by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Any attempt either to pressure the nurse to change her mind or to suggest to her that her career prospects might suffer would breach laws against harassment and discrimination, Addison said.

The nurse resolved the case less than a month after a Scottish court ruled that the Abortion Act did not allow two Catholic midwives to opt out of supervising late-term abortions at a hospital in Glasgow.

In an April 2 email to CNS, Addison said together the two cases showed that the right of health care workers to object to involvement in abortions for reasons of conscience was under pressure in the United Kingdom.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.