THE Catholic Church in Scotland has renewed calls for Holyrood laws to protect “conscience rights” for health workers who do not wish to do anything to support abortion services.

Senior clerics and lay activists have been seeking reforms ever since two Glasgow midwives in 2014 lost their landmark court fight not to have to supervise colleagues carrying out terminations.

Now a peer has introduced a private bill to the House of Lords to change this law – but only in England and Wales. Catholic leaders want a similar bid north of the Border.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, believes current protections, which means a medical professional can refuse to carry out an actual abortion, are not robust enough.


(Baroness Nuala O’Loan)

Welcoming the new Lords bill, from Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Mr Horan said: “This Bill could restore the fuller right of conscientious objection that was lost when the UK Supreme Court ruled that Glasgow midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood did not have a legal right to object to involvement in the abortion process.

“It is quite astonishing that anybody would deny another this basic right of conscience, a denial which flies in the face of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects the ‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.”

READ MORE: Analysis: Changes to abortion provision means NHS staff need more legal protection

Mr Horan added: “While the bill only applies to England and Wales, its progress should be of interest to people in Scotland, where hopefully a similar bill could be presented to the Scottish Parliament.

“Conscientious objection is a widely respected concept with considerable international and national laws, guidance, and conventions protecting the right, a Scottish Bill would bring Scotland into line with international norms.”


(Mary Doogan)

Mary Doogan, was one of the two midwives who challenged her health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in the landmark case – alongside Connie Wood – that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

She said: “I am very glad to see that there is finally Parliamentary action taking place to restore the conscience rights of those who work tirelessly day in and day out to serve and care for others.”

Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill, which received a second reading last week, was condemned “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” by Labour’s Baroness Thornton.

READ MORE: Analysis: Changes to abortion provision means NHS staff need more legal protection

Fellow Labour peer Lord Cashman said the bill was “an attempt to rewrite laws which respect conscientious objection and which…have been working well”.

He added: “I believe if this bill were to become law we would see conscientious objection so widened … as to make services such as IVF treatment, end of life care treatment and abortions difficult to access and sustain nationally.

“And we would witness the imposition of belief to curtail the legal choices and options of others.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, said: “The law as it stands already provides healthcare workers the right not to participate in abortions and the Supreme Court has clarified what constitutes participation,” he said.

“Extending the right to conscientious objection to supporting staff would make a staffing a hospital impossible and adversely affect patient care, and impede the ability of women to access their legal right to end a pregnancy. Those with strong objections to carrying out their jobs in full should responsibly choose to work in a speciality which does not bring their personal views into conflict with patient care.”

Baroness O’Loan is a crossbench Northern Irish peer, lawyer and writer on Catholic and legal issues.

Scots Law on the issue is devolved and will not be changed by her bill.