Swedish Midwife Sues State over Dismissal for Refusing to Aid in Abortions

Lawsuit seeks compensation for damages and discrimination.

Roger Kiska of ADF.

Roger Kiska of ADF.

(Morning Star News) – A Scandinavian rights group has filed suit against the Swedish government on behalf of a Christian woman who was fired for refusing to perform abortions.

Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, a Non-Governmental Organization that describes itself as dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights and human dignity, states in the lawsuit that Jönköping County Council in Sweden supported three different hospitals’ withdrawal of midwife work from Swedish Christian Ellinor Grimmark.

The council “set up an obligation to perform abortions as a condition for employment as a midwife,” the rights organization states, according to LifeNews.com. “This is a requirement that puts persons of a certain religion or other beliefs in a discriminatory position.”

The lawsuit seeks 80,000 Swedish kronas (US$11,655) in compensation for damages and 60,000 Swedish kronas (US$8,740) in compensation for discrimination.

Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom-Europe, which supports the lawsuit, said ADF is confident that the Swedish courts will rule in Grimmarks’ favor.

“In a civil society in this day and age, it is shocking that we are denying one of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to conscience,” he said, according to LifeNews. “A society has truly lost its way when it excludes someone from the healthcare profession merely because they want to bring human life into the world rather than destroying it.”

Hospital officials in the southern town of Eksjö had promised to extend Grimmark’s contract until she refused to participate in abortions last year. The Jönköping County Council’s decisions constituted interference with the exercise of Grimmark’s right to freedom of conscience and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights, according to Ruth Nordström, head of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers and CEO of Provita, which has supported Grimmark.

Grimmark, of Tenhult, told Morning Star News that she had prepared for work as a midwife with the understanding that the primary responsibility would be to help deliver babies. She was aware that hospital work in Sweden could conflict with her convictions, but she hoped for an employer who would honor freedom of conscience, she said.

Sweden has no comprehensive and clear legal and policy framework regarding freedom of conscience, Nordström said. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, formally European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), offers protections that are legally binding in Sweden, she said.

The Scandinavian rights organization’s Reinhold Fahlbeck said that “if this case is brought to the European Court of Human Rights, Sweden will lose,” according to LifeNews.com. “There is a proper consensus among the Council of Europe member states to allow freedom of conscience for health care workers regarding abortion and euthanasia, and the scope for national deviations is very small in this case.”

Since 1975, between 30,000 and 38,000 abortions have been performed per year in Sweden, Catharina Zätterström of the board of the Swedish Association for Midwives told Morning Star News.

“In Sweden, health care professionals don’t have the possibility to rely on conscientious objection,” she said. “The Swedish midwifery competence area is sexual and reproductive health, which includes abortion care. Wherever you work as a midwife, you can meet a woman who is going to have or has had an abortion.”

Sweden’s 1975 abortion law entitles women to have an abortion on demand up to the end of the 18th week of gestation. For an abortion after that point, a woman must apply to the Social Board of Health and Welfare, with permission granted only if she has exceptional reasons, Zätterström said. After the end of the 21st week of gestation, abortions are no longer allowed.

Grimmark’s case has sparked debate in Sweden. Nordström said a 2010 resolution should greatly affect how the European Court of Human Rights interprets the ECHR articles. European case law protecting freedom of conscience is strengthened by Council of Europe resolution 1763 on conscience for health care workers and protection of freedom of conscience in health care among member states in Europe, she said.

Resolution 1763, which the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted on Oct. 7, 2010, stipulates 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.”


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