The UK Supreme Court announced today that it had accepted an appeal by Greater Glasgow Health Board in the case of Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board.
The case turns upon the interpretation in Scottish law of the Abortion Act 1967 section 4 dealing with conscientious objection to abortion.
4. Conscientious objection to participation in treatment
(1) Subject to subsection (2) of this section, no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection:
Provided that in any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest on the person claiming to rely on it.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall affect any duty to participate in treatment which is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman.
(3) In any proceedings before a court in Scotland, a statement on oath by any person to the effect that he has a conscientious objection to participating in any treatment authorised by this Act shall be sufficient evidence for the purpose of discharging the burden of proof imposed upon him by subsection (1) of this section.
Most particularly it turns on the interpretation of "participate".
In the lower court it was held that this related only to directly administering to the patient during and procuring the abortion and that therefore someone in a merely supervisory role could not claim conscientious objection. On Appeal this was overturned with it being held that the relevant level of participation is to be judged against the objectors moral beliefs (if they do not believe they can avoid moral responsibility for an abortion by delegating the task to an underling then they can claim) and that treatment includes both pre and post abortion care.
The case is unlikely to significantly reduce access to abortion in Scotland but is none the less interesting. It could pose some interesting questions regarding NHS staffing.