Politics & Policy

Ask a Swedish Pro-Life Midwife about Her Country’s Reputation for Tolerance

Ellinor Grimmark

Sweden is known for its spirit of consensus. We seek compromise, which often is the lowest common denominator of the majority view. This approach has led to a country with relatively few social conflicts but requiring a large degree of subservience.

Even as Sweden becomes increasingly pluralistic and the traditional institution of the state church has been abolished, the desire for cultural unity remains. Today, a new kind of state religion is demanding enforcing social conformity.

Take the example of midwife Ellinor Grimmark. In 2013 she was denied an extension of her contract at Höglandssjukhuset women’s clinic in southern Sweden because she refused to perform abortions. She told the women’s clinic at the hospital that she believes life begins at conception. In a voicemail from the head of the maternity ward, Grimmark was swiftly informed that she “was no longer welcome to work with them” — despite a large need for more medical staff — and was challenged about “whether a person with [pro-life] views actually can become a midwife.”

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After taking her case against the county to the Jönköping district court, Grimmark has been all but condemned by various sectors of Swedish society. The Swedish Association of Health Professionals has offered no support, owing to its own pro-abortion convictions. Only one hospital offered her “assistance,” and it was for a counselor to help her “overcome her aversion to abortion” — that is, for psychological treatment and reeducation in the consensus norm.

Sweden prides itself on being a tolerant nation, but its new state religion leaves little room for ‘heretics.’

On the issue of whether those such as Grimmark should be allowed conscientious-objection rights, the former operations manager at the county hospital’s orthopedic clinic in Kalmar, on Sweden’s east coast, threatened that he “would gladly stand in the front with a baseball bat to prevent this development.” He added that “those who want clauses for conscientious objection should not work in health care.”

Mona Sahlin, the national coordinator against violent extremism, proclaimed in February at a conference on religion and democracy that the “one who refuses to participate in abortions is an extreme religious practitioner,” one who is simply “on a different level from the Islamic State” — that is, a pro-life medical practitioner is like ISIS, just not as extreme.

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Swedish journalists are typically vociferous champions of equal rights. But not in this case. The “liberal” media act as a new priesthood, requiring an oath of allegiance to the new norm — even from cabinet ministers with no responsibility for issues on health care. While the Swedish Union of Journalists guarantees reporters the right to conscientious objection, it rejects the idea that Grimmark should enjoy the same.

When the current Abortion Act was drafted in 1974, the Swedish parliament’s committee on health and welfare gave assurances that medical workers would, for ethical or religious reasons, be able to opt out of participating in abortions. Forty years later, the consensus has changed.

RELATED: Defending Abortion by Dismemberment Isn’t Easy

And liberal Sweden is rather conservative in amending the Act to keep up with new technological breakthroughs, such as those that allow a child born at 22 weeks to survive. The Swedish Abortion Act permits state-funded abortion on demand until the 18th week of pregnancy. After an evaluation by the National Board of Health and Welfare, an abortion can be performed from the 19th week up to the 22nd. According to a news report in 2011, some medical staff at Swedish facilities experienced deep discomfort with late-term abortions when the aborted child was still breathing and moving after the procedure, sometimes for as long as an hour afterward.

#related#A resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe affirms that no person shall be coerced or discriminated against because of a refusal to perform abortions. Sweden ignores this. Most European countries, including Nordic neighbors Norway and Denmark, allow for conscientious objection; Sweden is the rare exception. It barely tolerates those who think contrary to the norm.

Sweden prides itself on being a tolerant nation, but its new state religion leaves little room for “heretics.” It will now be up to the Swedish courts to decide whether those who want to hold to traditional Christian beliefs against abortion will be banned from working as midwives.

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