On appeal from: [2013] CSIH 36

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal which sort to set aside the Inner House’s declarator that the scope of the Abortion Act 1967, s 4(1), included ‘the entitlement to refuse to delegate, supervise and/or support staff in the provision of care to patients’ undergoing terminations save as required by s 4(2) and extended to ‘any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy’.

The respondents were Roman Catholic Midwives seeking confirmation from the appellant that they would not be required to delegate to, supervise other midwives to such patients following the hospital’s service reorganisation which saw the number of abortions performed at the hospital increased. They had received a declaration from the Inner House which gave a wide interpretation of the right under s 4(1). The Supreme Court was asked to consider if the Inner House had given too wide an interpretation to s 4(1).

The Court stated that the only question in this case was one of pure statutory construction and it was common grounds that ‘any treatment authorised by this Act’ meant the process of treatment in hospital for the termination of pregnancy and that ‘participating’ meant actually taking part in that process rather than the extended meaning given to participation by the criminal law. It stated that the course of medical treatment to which conscientious objection is permitted by s 4(1) is the whole course of medical treatment bringing about the termination of the pregnancy. However, the ordinary nursing and pastoral care of a patient who has just given birth was not unlawful before the Abortion Act 1967 and thus not made lawful by it. It further clarified that ‘to participate in’ meant to take part in a hands-on capacity: actually performing the tasks involved in the course of treatment.


For judgment, please download: [2014] UKSC 68
For Court’s press summary, please download: Court’s Press Summary
For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII