Sauherad Municipality v. A Norges Kristelige Legeforening (2018)
Doctor wins case on freedom of conscience
What was at stake?
- The right to live out one’s faith in all aspects of life
- The right to conscientious objection for medical professionals.
Should medical workers be forced to choose between their profession and their faith?
In 2015, Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz lost her employment with a Family Clinic in the Norwegian municipality of Sauherad. She had refused to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can cause abortion. Administering a procedure that could result in abortion contradicted her Christian faith.
Dr. Jachimowicz, who is originally from Poland, has more than 20 years of experience as a doctor. She and her husband came to Norway in 2010. Before starting her work at the Family Clinic, she explained her belief to her employer: ‘Life begins at conception and I do not want to take part in destroying it.’
International law protects the right of medical staff to conscientious objection. Nevertheless, her superiors fired Dr. Jachimowicz because she failed to comply with an instruction that she considered to be morally wrong. ‘I simply wanted to be a regular family doctor. I found myself with a choice and couldn’t act differently,’ Jachimowicz told one news outlet.
Although Norwegian law allows doctors to conscientiously object to abortion, the country introduced a new rule in January 2015 prohibiting doctors from refusing to provide any method of contraception. Doctors are therefore able to object to abortion, while being coerced to perform other procedures that can have the same result.
A lower court found that Dr. Jachimowicz had acted within her right to practise medicine in accordance with her conscience. Healthcare authorities appealed the decision. In August 2018, the Norwegian Supreme Court heard the case.
In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that Dr. Jachimowicz acted within her rights in refusing to follow through with a medical procedure to which she had a moral objection. The Court told health authorities to respect her right to conscientious objections.
‘Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. We welcome this ruling from the Norwegian Supreme Court. It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond. The Court’s findings recognize the fundamental right to conscientious objection for medical staff, as protected by international law,’ said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.
Our Role in the Case
ADF International provided legal support to our allies.