- European Court of Human Rights issues decision finding cases of Swedish midwives Grimmark and Steen “inadmissible”
- Sweden remains one of the only European countries failing to protect freedom of conscience
STRASBOURG (12 March 2020) – Today, in a short written decision, the European Court of Human Rights found the application of the two Swedish midwives Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen inadmissible. After refusing to perform abortions because of their consciences, the two midwives were denied employment in Sweden. After going through Swedish courts, they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
“We are very disappointed by the Court’s decision not to take up the cases of Ms Grimmark and Ms Steen. A positive judgment from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience. Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers. Although freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental right in almost every other European country, the decision today marks a missed opportunity to uphold this important protection in Sweden. In its short written decision, the Court agreed that Sweden had interfered with the rights of these midwives. However, in failing to take up the case, the decision marks a dangerous departure from the Court’s purpose in protecting fundamental freedoms,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.
Freedom of conscience at stake
Both Ms Grimmark and Ms Steen, who are represented by the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, were refused employment when they made their stance on participating in abortions clear. Ms Steen was told, ‘It is not our policy or our approach to leave any opening for a conscience clause. We have neither the ability nor intention to work with such exceptions.’ Ms Grimmark faced a similar situation. The Jönköping County Court then ruled against her and ordered her to pay the legal costs amounting to 150,000 EUR.
“I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same,” explained Ellinor Grimmark after she filed her case with the European Court of Human Rights four years ago.
“International law clearly provides protections for the right to freedom of conscience. Nobody should be forced to decide between their profession and their conscience. Rather than forcing midwives and other medical professionals out of their profession, Sweden should look to safeguard their moral convictions,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rules on cases in which there is an alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s decisions can affect more than 820 million Europeans across the 47 Council of Europe Member States. The Court hears only 6 percent of cases brought before it.