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Swedish Midwife Pays High Price for Following Her Conscience

There is a lot of public discussion on the “freedom of conscience” going on in Europe these days. And rightly so. We cannot people to be punished for making decisions consistent with their conscience. However, this is exactly what is happening right now in the case of Ellinor Grimmark. On Thursday, 12th of November 2015, the district court of Jönköping County Council in Sweden ruled against the Swedish midwife. An incomprehensible decision that we cannot simply accept. Especially, if we take current European legislation into account. She is now liable to pay the other party’s legal costs, totalling more than 1 million SEK (USD 109.000). But there is an even darker side to the case . . .

It all started in November 2013, when a women’s clinic rescinded the job previously offered to Ellinor, because she explained that she could not participate in abortions. As a midwife and a Christian she intended for her work to be about saving lives – not taking them. As a result, the clinic cancelled her contract before the first day of work. The head of the maternity ward simply left a telephone message saying that “she was no longer welcome to work with them” and questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife.”

A few months later, Grimmark tried to obtain employment with another clinic, which told her that a person who refuses to perform abortions does not belong at a women’s hospital. A third potential employer withdrew a job offer because of the complaints the midwife filed against the first clinic. What a tragedy. Ellinor, who has had a life-long passion to bring life into the world, is being refused employment because she refuses to take life out of the world. The midwife decided to stand up for her beliefs. With the help of our allied lawyer Ruth Nordstrom, she eventually went to court.

There is much at stake. The case of Ellinor might set a significant precedent in Europe. The battle for freedom of conscience for medical workers is being heavily fought both nationally and at the European level. International laws, to which Sweden is obligated, recognize freedom of conscience. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has affirmed that “no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion.”

Thus, the current decision of the district court is a bit of a surprise and a setback. However, together, with Ruth Nordstrom, we have stood by Ellinor and will continue to do so when she appeals the decision. We are disappointed that the court did not affirm Swedish and international law which both recognise freedom of conscience in the workplace.

Sadly, the court not only decided against the midwife but also ruled that she is liable to pay for the other party’s legal costs, which will amount to more than (USD 109.000). This is outrageous, considering this is a “discrimination case”, in which an individual is speaking up against public institutions. Taking into account a medical worker’s salary, these kind of legal fees could easily scare a person away from pursuing their rights.

We do not intend to give in. We are willing to take this case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary. And we will do everything to make sure that Ellinor’s rights are granted to her. Being pro-abortion cannot be a requirement for employment.

A loss could also have huge consequences, including the expansion of a recent and dangerous trend throughout Europe to exclude anyone from the medical profession who will not participate in performing abortions. The debate began in 2010. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] passed Resolution 1763(2010) on “the right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care”. The resolution, for which ADF International submitted legal analysis to PACE advocating in its favor, called for the European-wide recognition of conscience rights for all medical staff in any area, including research, which required the destruction of the unborn child. Since then, legal battles have ensued throughout Europe in Scotland, Poland, Croatia, Norway, and Sweden.

The highest court in Poland, its Constitutional Tribunal, ruled on the 7th of October to recognize the rights of all medical staff to not perform abortions based on their conscience. It further ruled that neither would they be required to refer women seeking abortions to physicians who would perform them. The ruling significantly raises the stakes in the Ellinor’s case, as a victory could define conscience rights for all European medical worker. Even the Swedish district court’s judgement underscored the fact, and cited ADF International, saying that the majority of Europe allows for rights of conscience for doctors and nurses . . . making their ruling and the cost assessment all the more alarming.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.