Swedish women’s clinics apply employment contracts violating human rights

July 17, 2019

In an interview with Swedish Radio P4 Blekinge, Marianne Gertzell, head of the women’s clinic in Karlskrona, states that since January this year, the clinic requires that person’s seeking employment state whether they agree to participate in abortions, in their employment contract. The article also states that staff who stated that they do not want to carry out abortion have been denied employment: https://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=105&artikel=7263815

Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers comment on the subject of the employment contract that the County Council’s women’s clinic is said to use, as this is very likely to violate human rights law and conventions.

– It may be unlawful that, as a condition for employment, a midwife, doctor or assistant nurse must be in favor of participating in abortions. The right to freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are fundamental human rights according to, inter alia, the European Convention, which is Swedish law. In order to limit these rights, support is required by law, there needs to be a legitimate purpose and it must be both necessary and proportionate in a democratic society, which we do not believe it is, says Ruth Nordström, Chief lawyer at Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

– The requirement to perform abortions for employment may appear neutral, but most likely the majority of those excluded from work will have a religious conviction. It may therefore be indirectly discriminatory to apply such a clause in an employment contract. In addition, it violates international ethical codes such as the International Code of Ethics for Midwives and the Code of Ethics of the International Gynecologist Association. One can also ask whether this is the right way to handle difficult ethical issues, to simply sift away dissent, says Rebecca Ahlstrand, lawyer at Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

– There is an extreme shortage of healthcare personnel, especially midwives in childbirth care. Putting patient safety aside and denying person’s employment because of their inner conscience or religious beliefs instead of hiring such personnel in childbirth care, is not a legitimate purpose and affects childbirth very negatively. In this regard, the women’s clinic allows ideology precedence before women’s right to a safe childbirth, which cannot be considered necessary or proportionate in a democratic society, says Ruth Nordström, Chief lawyer at Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

– The current clause cannot be regarded as a proportionate restriction on human rights. Freedom of conscience is applied in over 40 European countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom and the neighboring countries Norway and Denmark. If it is possible to solve in workplaces in basically all democratic states among the member states of the Council of Europe, it also should be possible in Sweden. Freedom of conscience has also been granted at workplaces throughout Sweden for about 40 years and is stated as a prerequisite in the preparatory works of the abortion law, says Rebecca Ahlstrand, lawyer at Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.