04 March 2015, The Tablet

MP seeks to safeguard rights of anti-abortion admin staff

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A Scottish Catholic MP will try to clarify the conscience clause in the 1967 Abortion Act in the next Parliament to allow hospital administrative staff to refuse to work on abortion cases.

Tom Clarke, the Labour member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, has been pressing unsuccessfully for the Prime Minister David Cameron to support clarification of the clause since two Catholic midwives in Scotland failed to convince the Supreme Court that they should be excused from delegating, supervising and supporting staff involved in terminations. The court’s ruling in December said that conscientious objection only applies to those who participate in procedures or treatments that lead to an abortion.

In January Mr Clarke submitted a written question to David Cameron asking for administrative workers to be exempt, but was “hugely disappointed” to only receive a response from a junior health minister which he said failed to address the suggested amendment.

The Prime Minister has now responded, stating that the court ruling confirmed the conscience clause was limited to those working in a “hands-on” capacity. Mr Cameron said: “the established position on conscientious objection has not changed,” and added: “We do not believe the judgment has created an anomaly that encroaches on human rights.”

Mr Clarke said: “I am still strongly of the opinion that there is still considerable ambiguity about the implications of the Abortion Act 1967 in relation to staff who have no wish to be involved in any aspect of Abortion, including administration. The Prime Minister’s response makes it clear that the Government has no plans to introduce legislation which would protect the human rights of those who do not wish to be involved in any aspect of such abortion procedures.”

“I am very much of the opinion that the next Parliament will have the responsibility of clarifying this matter and if I am in a position to do so I will do my utmost to ensure that this happens”.

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