Swedish Midwife to Fight for Rights at European Court

By   •   June 23, 2017

Ellinor Grimmark, right, and lawyer Ruth Nordström address the press on the day of the Swedish Labor Court ruling.

On April 12, a court in Sweden did the very thing that has become commonplace in many American courts—it blatantly contradicted the written law of the land in order to rule against a Christian who wants to live according to Biblical truth.

Ellinor Grimmark, a midwife and follower of Jesus, was denied employment by three Swedish clinics beginning in 2013 because she did not wish to perform abortions and because she expressed her opinion publicly in the media. She was denied in spite of Sweden’s Abortion Act, which states that only physicians are authorized to perform abortions.

So why is a midwife refused employment and then fined by the courts for wanting to help bring new life into the world and not extinguish it?

Ask the head of the maternity ward at Höglandssjukhuset women’s clinic, who questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife.” Or the folks at Ryhovs women’s clinic, who told Grimmark that a “person who refuses to perform abortions does not belong at a women’s clinic.” Or Värnamo Hospital’s women’s clinic, which offered her a job in the delivery ward but then withdrew the offer because she expressed her opinion about abortion in the media. Ask the hostile media who have berated Grimmark on TV, or the people who have sent her hate-filled, threatening messages.

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It seems that for many in Sweden, there is no limit to how far they will go to destroy someone who believes in the sanctity of life.

Because Grimmark was unjustly denied employment, she sued the County Council of Jönköping for violation of her freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as her freedom of opinion and expression, under the European Convention on Human Rights.
But two Swedish courts—first a district court and then in April the country’s Labor Court—ruled against her. She is effectively blacklisted from working as a midwife in Sweden, and she has been ordered to pay all the legal costs of the County Council, totaling 1.5 million krona (roughly $167,000 U.S.), plus her own legal costs.

According to Grimmark’s attorney, Ruth Nordström, the courts said that requiring all midwives to perform abortions was a legitimate aim to “secure good health care.” It is as if clinics in Sweden, which are suffering from a critical shortage of midwives, are saying, “We don’t care about the lack of midwives in maternity care or delivery care.”

The fact is that womens’ right to safe and secure birth care and delivery care is being endangered at the moment because of the acute lack of midwives in these departments.

Nordström, who is president and senior counsel of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, plans to file a complaint on Grimmark’s behalf this month with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. Nordström points out that the Swedish courts ruled only on the question of religious discrimination without even considering the possibility that the clinics violated Grimmark’s freedom of conscience.

Nordström sees reason for optimism, however, when it comes to the European Court of Human Rights. Previous rulings have supported many of the legal points Nordström will present. Although freedom of conscience, religion and speech can be restricted, three grounds need to be fulfilled in order to do so, none of which Sweden has done, according to Nordström.

One of the main points will be whether restrictions on freedom of conscience are necessary in a democratic society. Because the majority of countries in Europe protect conscience rights for health care workers, and because there is a strong consensus and a European standard regarding this, Sweden cannot claim that it is so different from its neighbors that it is impossible to protect the right to freedom of conscience in its health care system.

Still, even if Grimmark were to win at the European Court, that could take up to two years. She would still need to pay her legal costs, and it is not certain how much the Swedish government would need to pay her as compensation for violating the European Convention. The Grimmark family may still be driven into bankruptcy.

Grimmark has moved with her husband and two children, ages 15 and 11, to neighboring Norway, which grants freedom of conscience to midwives and doctors who object to abortion. She is working in a clinic and doing the work she believes God led her to do: delivering babies and providing compassionate care to mother and child alike.

“We are so glad that we now live in Norway with our children because it has just become extreme in Sweden,” she says. “If you say, ‘I cannot take another human being’s life; I just can’t do it,’ then a lot of people seem to hate you.

“I think I have lost faith in the Swedish legal system, and in the last few weeks now I have unfortunately lost faith in the tolerance Swedes are known for. How could you just decide to hate someone you don’t even know?”

During her ordeal, two Scripture passages have been especially comforting to Grimmark: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40), and “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Unfortunately, believers in Sweden have not provided much comfort. Her husband sent emails to nearly 100 churches, asking them to speak out in support. Only a few responded.

“That is the saddest part in this whole situation,” Grimmark says. “In the beginning, I really thought this was something the churches, the Christians, would really back up—that they would support not being able to participate in abortions. But I’ve learned it is not that simple. Most of them don’t want to take part in it at all.”
Her coworkers in Norway have done better.

“They say, ‘What is Sweden doing? They need you; we know they do. But we are glad you are here.’ And my bosses have supported me and said, “Keep fighting; we’ve got your back.’”  ©2017 BGEA

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. 

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