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Swedish midwife takes case to European Court of Human Rights

Written by
Elmzell Advokatbyrå, one of the leading labour and employment law practices in Sweden, guaranteeing comprehensive and high quality assistance for all of our clients.
Having exhausted the legal routes in Sweden, a midwife who refused to carry out abortions for religious reasons has recently taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

In 2014 a midwife sued the County Council of Jönköping for discrimination. It had refused to give her work in three different clinics after she told it that she would not carry out abortions on grounds of her Christian beliefs. The clinics said that their reluctance to employ her was not based on her faith but because she did not intend to carry out all duties required by her employment.

The case was tried by the district court, followed by the Swedish Labour Court (AD 2017 no 23 dated 12 April 2017) – and they both ruled against her. The courts also ruled that her freedom of conscience, religion and expression under the European Convention on Human Rights had not been breached.

The midwife’s case is being funded by a well-known Christian anti-abortion organisation in the US, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and this case is part of an international campaign to influence the right of abortion in Europe. ADF is therefore supporting the midwife’s case both legally and financially. The court fees in Sweden have come to approximately SEK 1.5 million (EUR 153,000).

But the midwife has now decided to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The court cannot overrule the Swedish courts’ decisions, but if it finds a breach it could order compensation for the midwife.

This case has been a matter of intense debate in Sweden, as Sweden is one of the most liberal countries in the world. The abortion rates are among the highest in Europe and religious faith is virtually the lowest.

Jenny Hellberg
Partner - Sweden
Elmzell Advokatbyrå