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Sweden: Pro-life midwives denied court hearing

May 2020

The European Court of Human Rights has refused to hear the case of two midwives who were denied employment in Sweden because they refused to perform abortions.

The two midwives, Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen, were told their application was ‘inadmissible’. Their lawyers have called the decision a ‘dangerous departure from protecting fundamental freedom’.

After refusing to perform abortions because of their consciences, the two midwives were denied employment in Sweden. After going through Swedish courts in a four-year process, they appealed to the ECHR.

However, in a short statement, the ECHR said it would not be taking up the case, although it agreed that Sweden had ‘interfered’ with the rights of the two midwives.

In response to the court’s decision, Robert Clarke, deputy director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, said he was ‘very disappointed’ by the court’s decision not to take up the case of Grimmark and Steen.

He said, ‘A positive judgement from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience. Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers.

‘Although freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental right in almost every other European country, the decision today marks a missed opportunity to uphold this important protection in Sweden.

‘In its short written decision, the Court agreed that Sweden had interfered with the rights of these midwives. However, in failing to take up the case, the decision marks a dangerous departure from the Court’s purpose in protecting fundamental freedoms.’

Both Grimmark and Steen, who are represented by legal group Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, were refused employment over four years ago, when they made their stance on participating in abortions clear.

At the time, Steen was told, ‘It is not our policy or our approach to leave any opening for a conscience clause. We have neither the ability nor intention to work with such exceptions.’

Grimmark faced a similar situation. The Jönköping County Court then ruled against her and ordered her to pay the legal costs amounting to E150,000 (£128.44).