Midwives in Sweden cannot refuse to assist women performing an abortion or assist contraception on the basis of their religious beliefs.
A Court of appeal on Wednesday upheld an earlier decision in January, which made clear that Jönköping County did not discriminate by refusing to hire an Evangelical Christian who believes life begins at conception. The emphasis was not on the belief system but on the tasks the midwife refused to perform. The midwife vows to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
During a summer posting in 2013, Ellinor Grimmark declined to assist in abortions, to give out a morning after pill, or even to insert a contraceptive coil. In every occasion, she claimed that this kind of assistance contravened her religious beliefs. Subsequently, she was refused work in the region.
The code of conduct for midwives makes clear that the needs of the patient always take priority over the belief system of the health carer. And the human resources of the County take the view that no employee can deny performing tasks that lie at the core to the job description.
Grimmark then took her case to Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman and then she was sponsored by the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to make her case in Court. She lost the first instance in January and the appeal case on Wednesday, April 12. This time around the Court ruled she must cover Jönköping County’s legal costs, that is, €63,300.
That is on the top of €96,000 in legal fees she was asked to pay in January.
Grimmark argues that her religious freedom should not be waived since it is only a small number of women that would refuse to perform abortions on religious grounds. “Abortions are always planned which means that it is possible to solve it simply through work schedules, which is what has been done previously,” Grimmark said.
The Swedish Association of Health Professionals and the tribunal argued that this was setting a dangerous principle. Since January, the head of the national Midwives Association Board of Ethics made clear that in principle a Midwife should not be able to choose the tasks they want to do. Speaking to the BBC at the time, the President of the Association Mia Ahlberg asked what happens if Jehova’s Witnesses are next in refusing a blood transfusion.
Grimmark told Swedish Radio on Wednesday that she expected the result, but she still hoped to earn the right for women with her religious worldview to be assigned to maternity wards only. She is hoping to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, that is, if she manages to get sponsorship from the US advocacy group.