Court of Human Rights Won’t Hear Cases of Midwives Denied Jobs for Refusing to Assist With Abortions

STRASBOURG — The European Court of Human Rights has declined to hear the appeals of two Swedish midwives who were denied employment because of their refusal to assist with abortions, concluding that the cases are inadmissable.

“We are very disappointed by the court’s decision not to take up the cases of Ms. Grimmark and Ms. Steen,” Robert Clarke of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, which has been assisting with legal representation, said in a statement. “A positive judgment from the court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience.”

As previously reported, in November 2013, Höglandssjukhuset women’s clinic rescinded a job offer to Ellinor Grimmark — a new midwifery graduate looking for employment — after she explained her beliefs, allegedly telling her that they questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife.”

She filed a complaint with the Swedish discrimination ombudsman and continued her job search, but as a result, Värnamo Hospital’s women’s clinic also withdrew an offer to Grimmark, stating that employees are not permitted to publicly take a stand against abortion.

Ryhovs Women’s Clinic likewise denied Grimmark employment, stating that those who oppose abortion should not work at women’s medical facilities.

In April 2014, the ombudsman concluded that Grimmark did not have a case because she was rejected not “because of her religion, but because she was not prepared to perform duties that were part of the job description.”

With the assistance of the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, she appealed the decision to the district court of Jonkoping County Council.

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ADF then assisted with Grimmark’s case, filing an expert brief that noted that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has agreed that “no person, hospital, or institution shall be coerced, held liable, or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist, or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia, or any act which could cause the death of a human fetus or embryo, for any reason.”

But in November 2015, a Swedish court ruled that medical facilities have a right to require employees to fulfill all of their job descriptions, and stated that it was proper for clinics to require midwives to assist with abortions as “the region has an obligation to ensure that women have effective access to abortion.”

Grimmark was also ordered to pay the equivalent of $105,000 in legal fees and over $67,000 in damages to the Jonkoping City Council, which she had sued over the matter.

She appealed to the Swedish Labor Court, which came to a similar conclusion in 2017, opining that there is no reason to believe that Ellinor Grimmark’s “freedom of opinion and expression had been violated” or that she had been discriminated against because of her pro-life principles. It also found that “some of the demands are too old [and] have exceeded the statute of limitations.”

Linda Steen likewise has not been able to find work as a midwife in Sweden, at first being granted a contract with the Nyköping Women’s Clinic, but barred by the County Council of Sörmland. An attempt to obtain employment at Eskilstuna Hospital was also thwarted.

“Since Linda Steen has de facto been given a professional ban in Sweden, she works as a midwife in Norway, where health care staff is granted freedom of conscience,” Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers outlines. “[S]he believes that the Swedish state violated, and continues to violate, her right to freedom of religion and conscience under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

Attorneys for Grimmark and Steen appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which determined on Thursday that the cases were inadmissable. There is no appeal.

“I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions,” Grimmark said prior to the decision. “I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same.”

“International law clearly provides protections for the right to freedom of conscience. Nobody should be forced to decide between their profession and their conscience,” also remarked Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International. “Rather than forcing midwives and other medical professionals out of their profession, Sweden should look to safeguard their moral convictions.”


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