Jönköping – Should a midwife have to choose between following her conscience or pursuing her career? This question was at the core of a three-day hearing at the Labour Court of Appeal ending yesterday in Sweden. The case of Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark attracted significant media attention, not least because her legal team exposed Sweden’s disregard for international law protecting conscientious objection.
“Sweden is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and it should take its obligation to protect citizens’ freedom of conscience seriously. Employers should accommodate the deeply held convictions of medical staff. Instead, a competent, caring midwife has been forced to work in a neighbouring country,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.
Some have attempted to frame this case as one that pits one human right against another. However, the only person whose rights have been violated is Ellinor Grimmark. The fact that midwives in other countries are able to work in accordance with their consciences should be proof enough that Sweden stands without an excuse.”
A high price to pay
Three different medical clinics in the district of Jönköping had refused to employ Ms. Grimmark because she would not assist with abortions in light of her convictions about the dignity of all human life. However, in November 2015, a district court found that Ms. Grimmark’s right to freedom of conscience had not been violated. It awarded substantial costs against her, amounting to 100,000 EUR.
ADF International filed an expert brief in support of her case, highlighting the protection for freedom of conscience that exists under international law. In particular, the brief referenced a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which states 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 […].”
“Participation in abortions should not be a requirement for employment as a midwife,” added Clarke.
“The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place. Instead of forcing desperately needed midwives out of a profession, states should look to safeguard the moral convictions of their staff. We are hopeful that the Court, in accordance with international law, will rule accordingly and protect Ellinor Grimmark’s fundamental right to freedom of conscience.”