Roman Catholic Midwives, working as Labour Ward Co-ordinators had objected to being involved in an administrative capacity in abortions being conducted by the appellants. The Outer House had said they were not entitled to opt out, but the Inner House had declared that ‘the petitioners’ entitlement to conscientious objection to participation in treatment for termination of pregnancy and feticide all in terms of section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967 includes the entitlement to refuse to delegate, supervise and/or support staff in the provision of care to patients undergoing termination of pregnancy or feticide throughout the termination process save as required of the petitioners in terms of section 4(2) of the said Act’. The Board appealed.
Held: The appeal succeeded, and the declarator was set asde.
Lady Hale said: ‘the course of treatment to which the petitioners may object is the whole course of medical treatment bringing about the termination of the pregnancy. It begins with the administration of the drugs designed to induce labour and normally ends with the ending of the pregnancy by delivery of the foetus, placenta and membrane. It would also, in my view, include the medical and nursing care which is connected with the process of undergoing labour and giving birth, – the monitoring of the progress of labour, the administration of pain relief, the giving of advice and support to the patient who is going through it all, the delivery of the foetus, which may require the assistance of forceps or an episiotomy, or in some cases an emergency Caesarian section, and the disposal of the foetus, placenta and membrane. In some cases, there may be specific aftercare which is required as a result of the process of giving birth, such as the repair of an episiotomy. But the ordinary nursing and pastoral care of a patient who has just given birth was not unlawful before the 1967 Act and thus was not made lawful by it.’
. . And ‘Whatever the outcome of the objectors’ stance, it is a feature of conscience clauses generally within the health care profession that the conscientious objector be under an obligation to refer the case to a professional who does not share that objection. This is a necessary corollary of the professional’s duty of care towards the patient. Once she has assumed care of the patient, she needs a good reason for failing to provide that care. But when conscientious objection is the reason, another health care professional should be found who does not share the objection. ‘
Lady Hale, Deputy President, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed, Lord Hughes, Lord Hodge
 UKSC 68,  2 WLR 126,  WLR(D) 550, UKSC 2013/0124
Bailii, WLRD, Bailii Summary, SC Summary, SC
Abortion Act 1967 4(2), Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990
At Outer House – Doogan and Another, Re Judicial Review SCS 29-Feb-2012
(Outer House, Court of Session) Midwives worked on a labour ward which also had care of patients having later terminations. As sincere Roman Catholics, they sought to assert a right of conscientious objection to allow them to be excused from taking . .
Appeal from – Doogan and Another v NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board SCS 24-Apr-2013
(Extra Division, Inner House) The reclaimers, Roman Catholic midwives working on a labour ward as co-ordinators, sought to assert a right of conscientious objection under the 1967 Act. The respondents said that only those directly involved in the . .
Cited – Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom v Department of Health and Social Security HL 2-Jan-1981
The court was asked whether nurses could properly involve themselves in a pregnancy termination procedure not known when the Act was passed, and in particular, whether a pregnancy was ‘terminated by a medical practitioner’, when it was carried out . .
Cited – Regina v Newton and Stungo 1958
Ashworth J gave a direction at trial: ‘The law about the use of instruments to procure miscarriage is this: such use of an instrument is unlawful unless the use is made in good faith for the purpose of preserving the life or health of the woman. . .
Cited – Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom v Department of Health and Social Security CA 1981
The College sought clarification of the role to be undertaken by nurses in abortion procedures. Lord Denning MR said: ‘when a pregnancy is terminated by medical induction, who should do the actual act of termination? Should it be done by a doctor? . .
Cited – Janaway v Salford Area Health Authority HL 1-Feb-1988
The plaintiff took work as a secretary at a health centre, but objected to having to type out letters referring patients to an abortion clinic, saying that she conscientiously objected to participation in the process.
Held: Her appeal was . .
Cited – Eweida And Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 15-Jan-2013
The named claimant had been employed by British Airways. She was a committed Christian and wished to wear a small crucifix on a chain around her neck. This breached the then dress code and she was dismissed. Her appeals had failed. Other claimants . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.540220