The Forgotten Woman of Socialized Medicine [1]

In Sweden, there is an ongoing battle in midwifery between conscience rights and abortion rights and abortion rights are presently winning. A recent Wall Street Journal article provides an excellent background and summary of the situation of one Ellinor Grimmarck, a 40-year-old Christian, mother of two, who quit her job in 2007 to return to school to become a midwife. In Sweden, there is an ongoing shortage of midwives and she received a stipend from a local county government to assist in her school expenses. Just prior to graduating in 2013, she asked her future hospital supervisors if they would accommodate her conscience rights not to perform abortions. Her stipend was terminated. Several others hospitals declined to hire her. She and her family ended up moving to nearby Norway where her conscience rights were accommodated in her new career as a midwife.

We may never had ever heard of Ms. Grimmarck had she not decided to sue the local county council in 2014 for religious discrimination and violation of her freedom of conscience. The WSJ article documents public characterizations against Ms. Grimmarck as an “‘extreme religious practitioner’ not unlike jihadists” and someone who is part of “a global wave of oppression against women”. One opponent offered “Those who are against abortion now, can’t we abort them-retroactively?”

Ms. Grimmarck lost her trial court case in November 2015. She appealed to the Swedish Labour Court of Appeals and just last Wednesday lost her appeal. Her attorney is considering whether to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, where a ruling would have major implications for conscience rights across Europe. Support for that appeal is found in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (adopted as Swedish law in 1995), which gives everyone the right to freedom of conscience.

Given the critical shortage of midwives in Sweden, it strike me as more than odd that the government would reject anyone willing to assume any portion of the midwife skill set necessary to offload the current workload of midwifery in general.  Bringing on midwives wishing to limit their practice to the performance of live-births and unwilling to perform abortions would necessarily reduce the live-birth demands of midwifery in general, allowing more elective time for those wishing to focus on performing more abortions. As the WSJ article reported, the requirement any midwife perform abortions should be moot anyway because the 1974 Swedish abortion law limits the performance of abortions to physicians (though obviously this requirement has been modified given the results of Ms. Grimmarck’s recent appeal).

Given this example, we should remain ever vigilant regarding conscience protection laws here in the USA. This becomes even more critical if abortion rights move from a negative right (others must abstain from interfering with the abortion) to a positive right (others are required to provide the abortion). Conscience protection laws may not prevent abortion from becoming a positive right but it will clearly protect midwives and obstetricians who find abortion morally repugnant by allowing them to continue their practice of medicine in such a legal setting.

[1] Weak apologies to Ayn Rand (her character Dr. Hendricks in the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged)

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