Nyköping, SWEDEN – ADF International supports the case of Swedish midwife Linda Steen, who objected to assisting with abortions for reasons of conscience and was therefore denied employment. ADF International allied attorney Ruth Nordström represents Ms. Steen and filed a claim with the district court of Nyköping in Sweden. ADF International has filed an expert brief in support of Ms Steen. The case has similarities with that of another midwife in which ADF International is also involved. In November 2015, a Swedish court ruled against Ellinor Grimmark, who objected to participating in abortions. Because of her objection, three hospitals refrained from hiring her. The judgment requires her to bear the costs of all parties to the proceedings amounting to more than EUR 100.000.
“Sweden is facing a serious human rights issue: Another midwife has been forced to start legal proceedings because she will not carry out abortions. These midwives trained to bring life into the world. Now they are being punished because they refuse to do something they believe to be morally wrong”, said Robert Clarke, a British human rights expert and Director of European Advocacy with ADF International. “Freedom of conscience is protected by the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Sweden has agreed to adhere. In addition, it is the only country of the 28 in the European Union that does not have either a general conscience provision or specific laws protecting medical staff.”
Denied employment because of her beliefs
In March 2015, Ms. Steen was denied employment as a midwife because she would not carry out abortions. After explaining her position to the nursing unit manager, the Women’s Clinic of Nyköping refused to hire Ms. Steen. She received a letter from the management stating: “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.”
The manager went even further by contacting another potential employer about Ms. Steen’s convictions. As a result, her interview was cancelled.
A tragic trend
Similar arguments barred Ellinor Grimmark from employment with three different clinics in 2013 and 2014. ADF International allied attorney Ruth Nordström represented her in a claim at the district court of Jönköping in Sweden. The court agreed that the midwife’s rights had been infringed. However, it concluded that forcing her to participate in abortions would be of greater importance.
Sweden is obliged to adhere to international law and the ruling was clearly against freedom of conscience
The court’s ruling also implied that Ms. Grimmark and her family ought to pay more than EUR 100.000 in legal costs. “This is a phenomenal amount considering the wider public significance of a case like this”, Clarke explained. He also supported the Swedish midwife’s decision to appeal the court’s judgment. “Sweden is obliged to adhere to international law and the ruling was clearly against freedom of conscience”, Clarke said.
Freedom of Conscience to be protected
In the expert brief filed in Ms. Steen’s case, ADF International highlighted the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 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, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”
“Being pro-abortion should not be a requirement for employment as a midwife,” added Clarke. “The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place. Medical centers should respect that desire and conviction.”
An interview on the conscience rights of medical employees in Sweden with our Legal Counsel Robert Clarke can be found here.