Categories: Conscience Rights

Scottish pro-life midwives who lost court battle to refuse to be involved in abortions described as “heroes”


By Dave Andrusko

John Keenan, bishop of the Diocese of Paisley in Scotland.

Last week NRL News Today posted a story explaining a hugely unfortunate decision in the case of two veteran Scottish midwives rendered by United Kingdom’s Supreme Court. It was an out-and-out defeat for freedom of conscience.

Mary Doogan and Connie Wood appealed to the conscience protections found in the Abortion Act of 1967.

But the Court unanimously held that Doogan and Wood could not, as a matter of conscience, refuse to supervise or delegate abortions in the labor ward of a National Health Service hospital. That protection, the judges ruled, extended only to those medical personnel who directly participated in the actual abortion.

I’ve read a sampling of the pro-life commentary that ensued, particularly in the Catholic Herald. Here are the some very important considerations raised by thoughtful writers.

Francis Phillips does an exquisite job gently debunking the charge that people like Doogan and Wood have an “over-scrupulous conscience.” In our culture—and even more so in Great Britain—abortion is so prevalent, it’s difficult for those whose conscience is not seared by abortion to understand that people can be adamant that they not be part of the “chain of events” that culminates in an abortion, no matter how many steps (or links) removed from the abortion itself.

What the judges didn’t see, Davis wrote,

Is that if you have a strong conscience about the wrongness of abortion, to be indirectly involved in it is to violate your conscience almost as much as if you were directly ending a life.

John Keenan is the bishop of the Diocese of Paisley in Scotland, who described Wood and Doogan as “heroes.” Here are a few of Bishop Keenan’s thoughts, as printed in the Catholic Herald:

“The decision handed down today is that of an old and tired establishment that has run out of ideas and vision about how to bring about a brighter and better future for our people. Having committed itself to supporting a culture of death in the past generation it now sees that to preserve this culture into the next generation it must become an oppressor of the basic human freedoms of its citizens. Ironically this is done, in the name of being pro-choice and ends in an intellectual bankruptcy plain for all to see.”

He went on

“Today Connie and Mary have lost their jobs, their livelihoods and their legal arguments but have won the respect, good will and admiration of thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens up and down the land who work and hope for a better world tomorrow, for a society that celebrates heroes who refuse to be silenced as a voice for the voiceless and who will stand up for human life and freedom, whatever it takes, against any reactionary forces peddling their worn out logic of meanness and fear. They have become inspirational staging posts for a new generation determined that it does not have to be this way.”

Bishop Keenan made the key distinction–that the Supreme Court’s ruling was not about depriving women of access to abortion it was about “forcing nurses who had trained to deliver babies to become involved in medically killing them.”

“We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples.”

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