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Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen, Swedish-born nurses from Norway, trained to be midwives, receiving state funding, but were turned down for midwifery jobs. They object to carry out abortions because of their Christian faith.
Swedish law requires midwives to carry out abortions - and several Swedish courts ruled against the two women. On April 10th, 2014 the Discrimination Ombudsman found no discrimination in the case and closed it. The Discrimination Ombudsman noted that it was part of a midwife’s professional role to take part in abortions. The applicant, who said that she would refuse to perform part of the work, was not in a comparable situation to those midwives who could perform all of their tasks. Nor was it her religious faith as such which was at stake: another midwife refusing a part of the work other than on religious grounds would not have been treated any differently from the applicant.
After that they went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As the Guardian reports, they told the ECHR that being denied employment due to their beliefs against abortion was an illegal breach of their rights to freedom of religion and conscience. Instead of ruling one way or the other, the court declined to take up the case, with a panel finding that Swedish authorities had acted lawfully.
“It is not a human right for nursing staff to refuse to provide care,” said Hans Linde of the Swedish non-profit sex education organization RFSU. “This is an important decision that in the long term will help to protect women’s health, the right to good-quality care and to be treated with respect when seeking an abortion.“
The judges' decision on Ms Grimmark's complaint said there was "an interference with her freedom of religion under Article Nine" of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But it went on: "The interference with the applicant's freedom of religion was proportionate and justified with the view of achieving a legitimate aim."
The nurses got legal assistance from Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), the international arm of a US-based Christian group that campaigns for religious freedom. They said the outcome had disparaged the women’s religious beliefs.
“Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers,” said its deputy director, Robert Clarke. “A positive judgment from the court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience.”
The judges don’t agree with ADF and they say that interference "had a sufficient basis in Swedish law and... pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the health of women seeking an abortion." They concluded that Sweden provides nationwide abortion services and “therefore has a positive obligation to organize its health system in a way as to ensure that the effective exercise of freedom of conscience of health professionals in the professional context does not prevent the provision of such services."