UK: Supreme Court uses unsound legal reasoning to cancel out freedom of conscience for midwives

The supreme judiciary instance of the UK, the Supreme Court, has today issued a decision that uses rather flimsy reasoning to de facto cancel out the freedom of midwives to abstain from participating in abortions. Although there is a specific legal provision in place to protect the freedom of conscience for all medical staff, the Court found that it applied only to those who directly perform the act, not to anyone else.  There is a more detailed report on the website of the BBC.

This decision is patently absurd, as it stands in clear contradiction to principles applied elsewhere. For example, in the case of a bank robbery, the state would not persecute only those who actually enter the bank and point their guns at the banc clerk at the cashier, but also the man who has procured the weapons, the man who is driving the escape car, and anyone else who may have been involved in planning and carrying out the assault, whatever his contribution may have been. The law disapproves of bank robberies; it therefore is only logical that any conscient contribution to a bank robbery is as worthy of persecution as the act itself.

Applying this to abortion, it is clear that conscientious objection against any act that contributes to an abortion is as reasonable and justified as the objection of conscience against the act itself. It is absurd that, under the interpretation of the law adopted by the Supreme Court, surgeons may not be forced to perform abortions, but midwives may be forced to contribute to then.

It is also clear that the Abortion Act 1967, while exempting abortions from criminal punishment if certain conditions are met, does not create a “right to abortion” for anyone. The Supreme Court’s ruling is built upon the false assumption that a balance is to be struck between the interests of women wishing to have an abortion and the interest of medical staff not wishing to perform abortions. But that is not what the law says.

Instead, what section 4 of the Abortion Act says is the following:

Conscientious objection to participation in treatment.

(1)Subject to subsection (2) of this section, no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection:

Provided that in any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest on the person claiming to rely on it.

(2)Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall affect any duty to participate in treatment which is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman.

(3)In any proceedings before a court in Scotland, a statement on oath by any person to the effect that he has a conscientious objection to participating in any treatment authorised by this Act shall be sufficient evidence for the purpose of discharging the burden of proof imposed upon him by subsection (1) of this section.

“Participate” means to participate in whichever form, and is clearly not limited to “directly performing” the “treatment”. Moreover, as this proviision is meant to secure the guman rights of the conscientious objector, it must be interpreted widely, not narrowly. The interpretation chosen by the supreme judges does violence not only to the conscientious objectors, but to the law itself.

It is therefore impossible to comment on this misguided judgement in any other way than by calling it a tragical perversion of justice, not motivated by proper legal reasoning, but by an ideological desire to facilitate abortions. One would expect a law court, and a fortiori a supreme judiciary instance, to prevent people from killing innocent children – here we see the Supreme Court of an important European country ordering unwilling medical staff to kill children. This is a true abomination.