Court finds that the scope of conscientious objection includes right to object to supervising and supporting other staff to take part in abortion procedures

Gillian Melville
26th Apr 2013

Earlier this week The Court of Session in Scotland has determined that the scope of the right to conscientious objection to participate in abortion treatment under the Abortion Act 1967 includes the right to refuse to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in abortions.

Employment law shared maternity leave


In this case, two Labour Ward Co-ordinators, both of whom were practising Roman Catholics, made conscientious objections to participating in the termination of pregnancies. As such, neither employee was expected to participate in the treatment of patients who were undergoing terminations.


In 2007, due to organisational reasons, the ward on which both employees worked subsequently became responsible for carrying out an increased number of abortions. As a result of this increased number, the two employees raised grievances through which they sought assurances that they would not be required to delegate supervise, and/or support other staff in the provision of such services.


The employer rejected their grievances on the basis that their seniority necessitated them having the ability to provide leadership within the department and this could involve delegating, supervising and supporting staff in the provision of abortion services. The employer said that such duties did not fall within the scope of their conscientious objection as it did not involve direct one-to-one care with patients requiring such services.


The two employees sought judicial review of this decision at the Court of Session. The court determined that because neither employee was required to play a direct part in bringing about the termination of pregnancy, their administrative and supervisory duties were not covered by their conscientious objections.


However, the two employees appealed this decision. Their appeal has now been upheld on the basis that, in the court’s view, the purpose of the right to make a contentious objection is to allow an individual to object to participating in any treatment, including pre and post-operative care, involved in the termination of pregnancies. However, the court qualified this by stating that the objection cannot prevail when the termination of a pregnancy is necessary where the purpose of the intervention is to save life or prevent grave permanent injury.


Case: Doogan and Wood for the Petition of a decision of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, Inner House, Court of Session, [2013] CSIH 36 P876/11


For full case, please go here.


Further details can be found here.

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