Two Scottish midwives have won the right to refuse to have any involvement with abortion planning or treatment.
Mary Teresa Doogan and Concepta Wood, midwives employed at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, objected to overseeing abortions on the grounds of their religious beliefs. It was accepted that, due to the right of conscientious objection implied into their contracts of employment by section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967, Mrs Doogan and Mrs Wood could not be required to participate in the treatment of patients undergoing abortions. The dispute between the parties was whether Mrs Doogan and Mrs Wood - who were "Labour Ward Co-ordinators" and, thus had a degree of seniority over other midwives - could be required to delegate, supervise and support staff in the treatment of patients undergoing abortions.
In February 2012, they applied to the Court of Session for judicial review. First time around Lady Smith, who decided the judicial review application, decided that the midwives were adequately protected: they had no direct involvement in the procedures to which they objected, and were sufficiently removed from direct involvement - to appropriately respect and accommodate their religious beliefs.
The appeal court - which was made up of Lady Dorrian, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan - held that the protection against participating in abortions on religious grounds contained in the Abortion Act 1967 should be interpreted widely. Lady Dorrian, said: "In our view the right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole process of treatment given for that purpose."
We are waiting to hear if the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board will appeal the latest decision.
This decision is expected to have wider ramifications for all areas of the medical profession, and impact on other workplace debates over the boundaries of religious conscience.