On 11 March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) declined to take up the case of two Swedish midwives who argued that being denied midwife jobs for refusing to perform abortions was a violation of their right to freedom of religion and conscience. The European Humanist Federation (EHF) and Humanists Sweden welcome the defence of safe and legal access to abortion that stems from this decision.
The scope of the decision goes beyond the right of two individuals to refuse carrying out certain tasks, but it directly affects the entire Swedish healthcare system and in particular access to abortion. By declaring the complaint inadmissible, the Court takes an important step towards the protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to certain types of care or affordable contraception amongst others.
The case of the Swedish midwives is not an isolated one. It is part of an active anti-abortion campaign lead by Christian legal organisation Alliance Defending Freedom, known for linking homosexuality to paedophilia and for using freedom of conscience as a way to discriminate LGBTI people. Over the past years, conservative and reactionary movements have gained ground in Europe with one common agenda: limiting women’s choices towards their bodies.
The EHF and Humanists Sweden recall that freedom of religion or belief, and more specifically « conscientious objection », must not be used to roll back on sexual and reproductive health and rights. According to the European Parliament, whilst states have the obligation to balance between the rights of health providers to express their beliefs with the responsibility to ensure people’s access to sexual and reproductive rights, this balance is most often not attained.
Featured photo credit: Adrian Grycuk