Swedish midwife fights for her conscience rights

Michael Cook
January 28, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

This week the Swedish Labour Court of Appeal heard the case of a midwife who was sacked because she refused to participate in abortions. Ellinor Grimmark has been refused employment at several hospitals in the Jönköping region because she has declared that abortion is against her conscience and her religious convictions.

She sued and demanded €30,000 in damages. In 2015 a district court found that assisting with abortions was part of her job, that her freedom of conscience had not been violated and that she should pay costs of €96,000.

According to Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers and the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom, which are jointly handing Ms Grimmark's case, Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is Swedish law since 1995, gives everyone the right to freedom of conscience. In a democratic society this is a right which may only be restricted by necessity. But, say her lawyers, no necessity exists: abortions form a very small part of her job, other midwives are available and there are precedents for accommodating Swedish conscientious objectors:

"Pluralism and dissent on ethical issues is an asset in healthcare, as well as in society in general, and strengthens democracy," say her Swedish advocates. "A corresponding proportion of patients, also taxpayers, in Swedish society share Ellinor Grimmark's ethical and/or religious beliefs."

However, Mia Ahlberg, president of the Swedish Association of Midwives told the BBC that making an exception for Ms Grimmark would destroy the integrity of midwifery and violate women's rights. The Swedish media is painting the participation of the ADF as a plot by the American pro-life movement to restrict abortion in the European Union.

Ms Grimmark has been harshly treated in the media. One politician called her a religious extremist; another compared her to the footsoldiers of the Islamic State. To keep working she has to cross the border to Norway, spending several days away from her family.