A third court in late January heard the case of a Christian Swedish midwife denied employment because of her pro-life convictions.
Despite the support of international laws granting medical professionals in Europe the right to freedom of conscience, the midwife, Ellinor Grimmark, has faced an uphill battle defending her rights.
“As a midwife, I want to exercise a profession which defends life and saves lives at all cost,” Grimmark told Catholic News Agency. “Somebody has to take the little children’s side. Somebody has to fight for their right to life.”
In 2014 Grimmark filed a religious discrimination complaint after a women’s center in Jönköping, Sweden, withdrew a job offer because she said she could not perform abortions. Two other medical clinics denied her employment on the same grounds. A court ruled in favor of the women’s center, saying the job offer was rescinded “not because of her religion, but because she was not prepared to perform duties that were part of the job description.”
Grimmark appealed the ruling, but in 2015 a district court also ruled against her, saying employers have a right to include abortion as a required job duty. The court ordered Grimmark to pay the county’s legal fees, amounting to about $109,000.
Grimmark appealed again. Last week’s three-day hearing at the Labour Court of Appeals drew a buzz of coverage because of the broad implications if the court changes course and rules in her favor.
Her critics argue the case is about women’s rights. Mia Ahlberg, president of the Swedish Association of Midwives, told the BBC the midwife does have a choice: She can choose another profession if she does not want to perform abortions.
But legal experts say Sweden is drawing a line in the sand.
“Some have attempted to frame this case as one that pits one human right against another,” said Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, which filed a brief in support of Grimmark. “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.”
Grimmark now works in Norway despite a massive shortage of midwives in Sweden.
Sweden has one of the highest abortion rates in Europe. The government provides free abortions to all women up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
During an interview, Grimmark referenced a memory another midwife told her about – holding an aborted baby in her arms, still alive, while it struggled to breathe for an hour.
“I cannot take part in this,” Grimmark said.
Clarke says he and other attorneys working on the case are confident that international laws, of which Sweden is a signatory, defend Grimmark’s right of conscience.
The ADF International brief points to a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stating “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 desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place,” Clarke said. “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.”
A verdict is expected within a few weeks.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)