Sweden’s abortion law currently permits state-funded abortion until the 22nd week of pregnancy. When the Swedish Abortion Act was drafted in 1974, the Swedish parliament committee on health and welfare said medical workers would not be forced to participate in abortions if they had ethical or religious objections.
“Sweden had previously allowed individual hospital managers to accommodate midwives and doctors who don’t want to participate in abortions,” said Grimmark. “But now, hospitals and politicians are stating that a condition for work is to perform abortions.”
“I now have to work in Norway because I am no longer welcome to work in Sweden. It is clear that Sweden needs a legal precedent to protect the freedom of conscience of healthcare workers.”
The hospital Grimmark currently works for in Norway submitted a letter to the Jonkoping County Council on her behalf. The letter stated that she does her job well and is very diligent. It also said that her refusal to assist in performing abortions has never caused any problems for patients or co-workers.
In April 2014, the Swedish Equality Ombudsman ruled against Grimmark, claiming that the hospital refused to hire her “not because of her religion, but because she was not prepared to perform duties that were part of the job description.”
“A midwife is responsible for the care of the mother and the child before, during and after childbirth,” Nordstrom said. “The requirement to perform abortions cannot be a litmus test for employment as a midwife or nurse.”
“According to the Swedish Discrimination act, all employers have an obligation to cooperate with workers to obtain equal rights and opportunities in working life regardless of their religion or beliefs,” she said.
The controversy comes at a time when Sweden is experiencing an acute shortage of midwives.
In 2014, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare conducted a survey that showed that in Gothenburg – the second largest city in Sweden – 50 percent of midwives feel that they are overworked and face too high levels of anxiety.
The survey also revealed that patient safety was in jeopardy in Malmo, the third largest city in Sweden. Skane University Hospital attributed the problem to staff shortages, while Soder Sjukhuset – one of the largest hospitals in Stockholm – has called the situation worrisome and said that it would like to recruit 20 new midwives.
“Already in Sweden there is a massive shortage of midwives,” said Robert Clarke, legal counsel for ADF International, which has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Grimmark.
(Story continues below)
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“Removing willing and able midwives over such a highly politicized and polarizing position not only hurts midwives, it also directly hurts the patients who are receiving inadequate medical care because of the shortages,” he added.
“It is particularly surprising that the Health Region of Jonkoping, would rather lose competent healthcare workers to Norway than grant them freedom of conscience,” Nordstrom said.
“Sweden’s current work ban on midwives with a conscientious objection does not meet the statutory requirements for patient safety and contradicts the right to safe maternity health care. This is not in the best interest of patients.”
Grimmark and her attorney are now filing an appeal with the Gota Hovratt, a court in Jonkoping. They are hopeful about the outcome of the appeal.
“Religious freedom is being curtailed dramatically in many respects in Europe, and especially in Sweden,” said Nordstrom. “If Ellinor’s case is brought to the European Court of Human Rights, it will have a major influence on religious freedom in every country in Europe.”
“The District Court only examined if Ellinor was discriminated because of her religious beliefs and did not at all examine the relevant case law of the European Court,” said Nordstrom. “It is remarkable that the court states that the question of freedom of conscience should only be examined if a person is not religious.”