Swedish midwives who oppose abortion fail in rights case

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 13 March 2020 11:57 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: General view of the building of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, eastern France, January 30, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

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Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen went to the European Court of Human Rights after they were rejected from jobs as they were unwilling to perform abortions due to religious beliefs

(Adds statements from midwives in case)

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, March 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two nurses denied midwife jobs for refusing to carry out abortions lost their legal bid on Thursday to take Sweden to a top European court for violating their religious beliefs.

Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen had told the European Court of Human Rights (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.

The decision was described as "disappointing" but "quite expected" by Steen, while Grimmark said there should be room for all opinions in a democratic society.

It was applauded by a sexual health organisation, which said the case had attempted to "chip away" at abortion rights.

"It is not a human right for nursing staff to refuse to provide care," said Hans Linde of Swedish non-profit sex education organisation RFSU.

"This is an important decision that in the long term will help to protect women's health, right to good quality care and to be treated with respect when seeking an abortion."

The case is the latest in a series of lawsuits around the world over the scope of religious rights at work, from a baker who refused to make a cake with a gay rights message through to clashes over prayer breaks and the wearing of religious symbols.

Both Grimmark and Steen had initially worked as nurses then retrained as midwives, but were rejected for jobs after saying their religious beliefs prevented them carrying out abortions.

They launched cases against Sweden at the ECHR claiming authorities fell foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court found both cases were inadmissable to be heard by the EHRC. There is no appeal procedure against the decision.

ADF International, the international arm of a U.S.-based Christian group that campaigns for religious freedom, said the outcome had trampled on the duo'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." (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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