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Press release 16 June 2017

Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers
16 June, 2017 – PRESS RELEASE
Phone: +46 70 725 19 17 / Email: info@shrl.eu

Swedish Midwives file case before the European Court of Human Rights

On 14 June two Swedish midwives together with the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers filed a complaint against Sweden to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for violations of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.

– During an acute midwife shortage in Sweden, where over eighty percent of the County councils that run local hospitals have reported having trouble recruiting midwives, Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen have been denied the right to work within their profession, because of their conscientious objection to abortion. This is a severe violation of their Convention protected rights, said Ruth Nordström, Senior legal counsel, Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

– In the Council of Europe region freedom of conscience for medical practitioners is almost universally protected. With the exception of Sweden, every EU member state has either a general law protecting freedom of conscience, or a specific law protecting medical practitioners’ rights of conscience. The majority of States have both a general provision and a specific law, said Ruth Nordström.

– The consensus in Europe is a reflection of the fundamental nature of the right to freedom of conscience generally, and within the medical profession in particular. There is a clear common ground both in Europe and internationally that health care professionals should be granted the right to conscientious objection, said Jörgen Olson, Senior legal counsel.

– To able to justify an interference in the right to freedom of conscience, a state must advance convincing and compelling reasons corresponding to a “pressing social need”, according to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. However, the facts made out in the the current cases make it clear that there is no “pressing social need” to force all midwives to participate in abortions or to ban midwives Linda Steen and Ellinor Grimmark and likeminded midwives from their work within delivery care or postnatal care, quite the opposite, said legal counsel Rebecca Ahlstrand.

FACTS on Freedom of Consience in Europe:

  • The number of EU member states with general clauses guaranteeing freedom of conscience is 22 out of 28, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
  • The number of EU member states with specific laws protecting medical practitioners’ rights of conscience is 21 out of 28: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom.
  • The majority of the Council of Europe member states protect the right to freedom of conscience. Norway and Switzerland, who are not members of the EU, have legal provisions protecting the right to freedom of conscience for healthcare professionals. Albania, Russia, Turkey and Bosnia and Hercegovina also protect the right to freedom of conscience of medical professionals, while abortion is prohibited in Andorra, Lichtenstein, Monaco and San Marino. General protection for freedom of conscience is found in Albania, Armenia, Azerbadjan, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Lichtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Macedonia and Ukraine.
Skandinaviska Människorättsjuristerna (SHRL) är en skandinavisk juristorganisation som arbetar med att främja mänskliga rättigheter i Europa. SHRL är medlem i EU:s plattform för mänskliga rättigheter, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights http://fra.europa.eu/en)

SHRL arbetar via internationella nätverk och organ och som styrdokument finns FN:s deklaration om mänskliga rättigheter, Barnkonventionen, Europakonventionen om de mänskliga rättigheterna och Europarådets konvention om bekämpande av människohandel. SHRL och Scandinavian Human Rights Committee delar årligen ut priset Scandinavian Human Dignity Award.