Guest Column

Is freedom of conscience a human right? Sweden doesn’t seem to think so.

In 2014, Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark had completed her training and was ready to start working to help women give birth. She was offered a job in the Jönköping region in Southern Sweden. She made it clear that her conscience did not permit her to perform or assist with abortions. This led to her being refused a job at three different hospitals. At one of the hospitals, she was first promised that her conscience would be respected, but this promise was broken.

Grimmark was not willing to give up, and reported this to the Discrimination Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen in Swedish). The DO said that what had been done to her was not discrimination, and that, as a midwife, she was obliged to assist with abortions if she was to get a job.

According to the European Convention, article 9, freedom of conscience is a human right that should be respected by European countries, and most European countries do respect this. Among them are many that have legal abortion on demand — for example, Denmark. In Sweden, this is respected at some hospitals, too. But the authorities are not respecting Grimmark’s right to freedom of conscience, which they view as a threat to easy access to abortion. The fact that most other European countries would respect Grimmark’s right to not perform or assist with abortions is something Swedish officials mostly ignore.

Grimmark did not give up after her contact with the DO. She took the case to the Jönköping district court, to get her rights acknowledged — but to no avail. The district court ruled in November 2015 that nothing wrong had been done towards Grimmark and that the hospitals had the right to refuse her a job if she was not willing to perform or assist with abortions. They also sentenced her to pay the costs for the trial, which was 925,000 kronor — over $100,000 USD.

However, this was not the end of it all. It was taken to the court of appeals in Gothenburg, where it was ruled that this was a question for the Arbetsdomstolen (Employment Court). The trial is currently underway, with a ruling expected on March 27th. Grimmark’s attorney is pro-life lawyer Ruth Nordström, a fighter for freedom of conscience, as well as a fighter against sex trafficking.

While these trials have been going on, Ellinor Grimmark has started working in Norway, where the the freedom of conscience of midwives is respected. She has been able to deliver many babies, and has recently announced that she is going to move to Norway permanently. This is not surprising. Norway grants her the right to work as a midwife while following her conscience, and the Norwegians treat Grimmark with respect. In Sweden, on the other hand, Grimmer is not only refused a job — she is also demonized by politicians and the media. One politician, Mona Sahlin, compared Grimmark to a Daesh jihadi. A few weeks ago, comedian Cissi Wallin asked on television why pro-lifers cannot be aborted retroactively. This is the level the demonization of pro-lifers has reached in the Swedish media.

What is so odd about all this is that when abortion on demand was introduced in Sweden in 1975, freedom of conscience was respected by the parliament. This is clear from several members’ bills (among others, Sven Johansson, 1976; Sigvard Karlehagen, 1976; and Filip Fridolfsson, 1978). Sadly, this respect for freedom of conscience was not made into law, and as attitudes changed, what has happened to Grimmark became possible.

Grimmark and her defenders are thankfully getting financial support from Alliance Defending Freedom. It is very possible that this will end, not in the Arbetsdomstolen, but in the European Court of Human Rights.

Let us hope that Grimmark gets her final victory. Freedom of conscience is a human right. No midwife should be forced to perform or assist abortions. Midwifery should be all about helping babies come out of the womb alive, not killing them inside it. As long as abortions remain legal, it should also be legal for anyone to refuse having a part in them.










Editor’s Note: The author is a resident of Sweden who has chosen to remain anonymous.

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