Midwife wasn’t discriminated against

2015-12-02 12:34

The hospitals did not do anything wrong when they refused to hire a midwife who would not perform abortions. The ruling in the Swedish ‘midwife case’ was announced yesterday.

‘That’s good news’, says Lena Lennerhed, gender researcher and professor of history of ideas at Södertörn University.

The court found that the woman had not been discriminated against because of her religion, and that it is both appropriate and necessary to require midwives to perform abortions.

In the spring of 2014, the midwife sued Jönköping County after having been denied employment at three hospitals in the region. The case has been pursued by Ruth Nordström, lawyer and CEO of Provita, an organisation that wants to limit women’s right to abortion. Swedish abortion opponents often refer to healthcare workers’ right to freedom of conscience, and Lennerhed sees this as a conscious strategic move.

‘They are trying to restrict women’s right to abortion. In Sweden today, you won’t get anywhere by saying you’re against abortion, so instead they choose to focus on details’, she says.

Refuse to performe abortion is not sustainable

Kristina Gemzell, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Karolinska Institutet, was pleased to see that the district court decided to free the women’s clinics from wrongdoing.

‘Swedish midwives have two primary tasks: maternity care and abortions. It just won’t work if some of them refuse to do something that central, especially not at small clinics’, she says.

According to the ruling from Jönköping District Court, the court only tried the issue of freedom of religion and not the issue of freedom of conscience. The court found that, in the present case, it is not possible to separate the right to freedom of conscience from the right to freedom of religion. This is criticised by the midwife and her representative Ruth Nordström, who have announced that the ruling will be appealed. They have previously communicated that they are ready to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

‘It’s unfortunate. This process is taking a lot of time and energy from everybody involved,’ says Kristina Gemzell.

In Sweden, there is broad consensus that healthcare workers should not be able to refuse participation in abortions. However, most other European countries have chosen a different path. In fact, Sweden, Finland and Iceland are the only countries without a freedom of conscience clause in their abortion legislation. In Italy, 90 per cent of all gynaecologists refuse to perform abortions.

‘It is not sustainable. Nobody has a right to work as a gynaecologist or a midwife. Access to proper care, on the other hand, is a human right,’ says Kristina Gemzell.

New type of resistance

Lena Lennerhed’s research concerns Swedish women’s right to abortion in a historic perspective. This year marks the 40th anniversary of that right. The resistance against it has fluctuated over the years.

‘We’d like to think that the view of the abortion issue has grown increasingly liberal, but it’s not that simple’, she says.

In the 1950s, the opposition increased and it became more difficult to have an abortion request approved. Things changed in the 1960s when many people wanted to do away with the application procedure altogether.

‘They wanted free abortion, which was a revolutionary thought in those days’, says Lena Lennerhed.

Lena Lennerhed believes that Swedish abortion opponents of today are gaining inspiration from the successful anti-abortion movement in Europe. She does not think that the rights that have been won are threatened, but points to the risk of a new type of resistance that is not religiously based but rather rooted in nationalist parties and organisations.

‘I’m afraid we’re going to see more of the idea that women should generate a lot of kids, and of the right type, for the nation. This rhetoric can already be observed across Europe’, she says.

According to Kristina Gemzell, the present Swedish anti-abortion movement is clever and sophisticated.

‘They’re not really open with where they stand, and that’s dangerous. Few things have been more important to women’s health than their right to abortion’, says Kristina Gemzell.

Author Charlie Olofsson
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