Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The implications of equality legislation in cases of conscientious objection

A very interesting case was reported last Friday Aug. 12th by the Telegraph, in which two Catholic nurses successfully opposed hospital authorities in a London Hospital on the issue of conscientious objection to abortion, under equality legislation.
This landmark case is believed to be the first in which the Equality Act has been used successfully to defend a “pro-life” position as a philosophical belief and could have implications for other Christian medical staff. 
See also John Smeaton's Blog post on the issue

The nurses were moved from their normal nursing duties to work once a week at an abortion clinic and were required to administer two abortifacient drugs - Mifepristone and Misoprostol - to pregnant women to induce so called “medical” as against “surgical” abortions.
When the nurses discovered that they were participating in abortions they objected but were told by managers that they must continue with the work. It is alleged that one hospital manager said: “What would happen if we allowed all the Christian nurses to refuse?”
The Thomas More Legal Centre which represented the nurses, argued that the NHS had wrongly denied the nurses their right as conscientious objectors not to take part in abortions, which is set out in the 1967 Abortion Act but also invoked the Equality Act 2010. In a move that is believed to be a legal first, The Centre claimed that the nurses’ belief in the sanctity of life from conception onwards was “a philosophical belief” protected under the Equality Act. Therefore any attempt to pressure them into working in the clinic would be illegal.

After receiving a letter from the centre, the hospital initially told the nurses that they would be excused from administering the abortion-inducing drugs but would have to remain working at the clinic.
The nurses’ lawyer, Neil Addison of the Thomas More centre, wrote again to the hospital stating that the nurses would still be “morally complicit in abortion” if they continued to work in the clinic as nurses in any capacity. The hospital eventually conceded and the nurses were allocated to other duties.

Picture shows Neil Addison of the Thomas More Legal Centre