A Swedish midwife blacklisted in her home country for refusing to assist in abortions has lost a lengthy legal battle at the European Court of Human Rights, the top appeals court for such cases.
Ellinor Grimmark, a Christian who was refused employment at three medical facilities upon finishing her training in 2014 because of her pro-life views and then publicly scorned after her story became public in a newspaper interview, had lost two previous cases in Sweden before appealing to the EU court in 2017.
Swedish law, as with all EU member nations, provides for rights of conscience and religious belief, but those rights did not outweigh the need for compulsory abortion duties for midwives, according to the court.
“Sweden provides nationwide abortion services and therefore has a positive obligation,” the court reasoned, to see that “effective exercise of freedom of conscience” does not interfere with abortion services.
The court added: “The requirement that all midwives should be able to perform all duties inherent to the vacant posts was not disproportionate or unjustified. … In the present case, the applicant had voluntarily chosen to become a midwife and apply for vacant posts while knowing that this would mean assisting also in abortion cases.”
The court’s announcement of its rulings on March 11 against Grimmark and another midwife with religious objections, Linda Steen, made clear the EU human rights court believes abortion policy can trump conscience rights if a member state’s laws reflect such a view.
“It feels a bit heavy, but life goes on,” Grimmark said in a statement. “I am able to work as a midwife in Norway, where freedom of conscience works so well. It is a pity that Sweden, which needs all the midwives it could possibly get, now excludes competent midwives from delivery care. This means that delivery care and patient safety are affected negatively. There should be room for all opinions in a democratic society.”
Grimmark moved to Norway with her husband and two children several years ago and has worked freely as a midwife there. Steen is also working in Norway as a midwife without interference from the medical community or government.
Rebecca Ahlstrand, a lawyer with Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, which represented the women, said: “It can neither be considered proportionate nor necessary to prohibit a midwife from working on delivery and maternity care while there is such a great shortage on midwives throughout Sweden. It is women in delivery care who will suffer out of patient safety risks due to this shortage.”
“Freedom of conscience is one of the most fundamental human rights and is about a deep fundamental conviction that no one should be forced to renounce in their service,” added attorney Jörgen Olson, also of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, following the rulings.
The Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers contends that requiring midwives to agree to abortion participation in employment contracts “violates international ethical codes such as the International Code of Ethics for Midwives and the Code of Ethics of the International Gynecologist Association.”
In a 2017 interview with Decision, Grimmark said two Scripture passages had comforted her during her ordeal: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40), and “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
Above: Ellinor Grimmark speaks with reporters outside the Swedish Labour Court on April 12, 2017.
Photo: Courtesy of Abraham Engelmark/SHRL