Skip to content

Archive site notice

You are viewing an archived copy of Christian Concern's website. Some features are disabled and pages may not display properly.

To view our current site, please visit

Victory for Catholic midwives in abortion conscience case

Printer-friendly version

Two Catholic midwives have won the right to be exempt from involvement in abortion procedures following a ruling by an appeal court in Scotland.

Judges in Edinburgh ruled that Mary Doogan (58) and Concepta Wood (52) could lawfully refuse to supervise and assist staff involved in abortions under the conscience clause in the 1967 Abortion Act. 

The midwives lost a previous case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) after a judge held that the opt-out clause was inapplicable since they did not have direct involvement in pregnancy terminations.


The case arose after Southern General Hospital introduced a new policy requiring midwives to watch over and sometimes assist with abortion procedures.

The two midwives, who had served at the hospital for over 20 years, told their employer that they had a conscientious objection to helping out with abortions, but were unable to persuade the hospital to uphold their right to opt-out.

Dismissing their case against the GGC in a hearing last year, Judge Lady Smith at the Court of Session said: "Nothing they have to do as part of their duties terminates a woman's pregnancy.

"They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs."


But the decision was overturned by appeal judges in Edinburgh this week who said that the opt-out conscience clause applied to all staff involved in the abortion process.

Lady Dorrian, who sat on the appeal with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan, said: "In our view the right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole process of treatment given for that purpose.

"The right is given because it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant... It is a matter on which many people have strong moral and religious convictions, and the right of conscientious objection is given out of respect for those convictions and not for any other reason.

"It is in keeping with the reason for the exemption that the wide interpretation which we favour should be given to it."

They added: "It follows that the appeal should succeed."


Following the ruling, Ms Doogan and Mrs Wood said they were "absolutely delighted" with the result.

They added: "In holding all life to be sacred from conception to natural death, as midwives we have always worked in the knowledge we have two lives to care for throughout labour; a mother and that of her unborn child.

"Today's judgement is a welcome affirmation of the rights of all midwives to withdraw from a practice that would violate their conscience and which over time, would indeed debar many from entering what has always been a very rewarding and noble profession.

"It is with great relief we can now return to considerations that are all to do with child birth and midwifery practice and less to do with legal matters."

Common sense

The most senior Catholic in Glasgow, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia described the ruling as a "victory for freedom of conscience and for common sense."

He said: "As the judges state, the right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole abortion process," the archbishop said.

"I hope that many pro-life health professionals will take heart from this judgment and have the courage to express their own objections if and when they are asked to carry out tasks which are morally wrong and violate their conscience.

"Respect for workers' freedom of conscience is a hallmark of a civilised society."

Ms Doogan and Mrs Wood were supported by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Related stories:

Midwives appeal abortion ruling over conscience case




For more information on the implications of this case read a blog by Dr Peter Saunders here >