Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Glasgow nurses take NHS trust to court over abortion supervision


Two nurses are taking the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board to court over what they claim is a conscientious objection case involving practising abortions.

Although their right to conscientiously object is observed by the NHS, the midwifery nurses, Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood, say that delegating work to nurses under their supervision who were tasked with carrying out abortions is a violation of their human rights.

Under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act, medical staff who object to abortion are not required to take part in terminations. The nurses argue that this conscientious objection clause should include the right to refuse to direct and supervise staff carrying out abortions, the BBC reported.

Having to delegate tasks to other medical staff involved in terminations is a violation of their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they argued.

The case is being heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is contesting the action, and says that expecting the senior nurses to carry out their roles as supervisors is not in breach of the nurses’ right to conscientious objection.

The nurses say in their petition that they are practising Catholics and that this forms the basis of their refusal to work on cases involving termination – however indirectly.

At Abortion Rights, we believe in choice, and respect the right of medical staff to refuse to carry out abortions on grounds of conscientious objection. However, we agree with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that supervising staff carrying out abortions is not and should not be covered by the conscientious objection clause. We hope the Court of Session in Edinburgh will agree with this view.

It is vital that medical professionals who object to abortion are required to ensure that timely care is available from an alternative provider. There have been worrying cases among, for example, the 20% of GPs who oppose abortion, refusing to refer people seeking treatment to other doctors, as they are required to do.

We must therefore resist any attempt by the anti-abortion movement to expand the definition of conscientious objection or problems of this type are likely to proliferate.