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World News

European Court refuses to hear case of Christian midwives in Sweden who refuse to carry out abortions

by Marcus Jones

The European Court of Human Rights has said it will not look at the case of two Swedish midwives who are being stopped from working because they refuse to perform abortions.

Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen had wanted to take action against the authorities in their homeland claiming they're freedom of conscience is being violated.

After exhausting legal options in Sweden they applied to Europe's highest court.

The refusal to hear the case has been described as a "dangerous departure from the Court's purpose in protecting fundamental freedoms" by religious freedom group ADF International which has been supporting the pair.

Deputy Director Robert Clarke said: "We are very disappointed by the Court's decision not to take up the cases of Ms Grimmark and Ms Steen. A positive judgment from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience. Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers.  Although freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental right in almost every other European country, the decision today marks a missed opportunity to uphold this important protection in Sweden. In its short written decision, the Court agreed that Sweden had interfered with the rights of these midwives."

The midwives have been fighting their cases for four years.

Speaking about her ordeal, Ms Grimmark said: "I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same."

The Swedish Association of Midwives has defended the authorities' right to refuse Grimmark work, suggesting any change would have consequences for the whole Swedish health care system.

Speaking to the BBC, President Mia Ahlberg said: "For example, a nurse who is a Jehovah's Witness might refuse to perform a blood transfusion.

"It's part of our professional competence - so the employer had a right to say 'you cannot work here'."

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