The government can force midwives to perform abortions or lose their job, a Swedish court has ruled. As bad as it is, this setback for life and liberty could have been worse if not for the free market.
On Wednesday, the Swedish Appeals Court ruled against a pro-life midwife who lost jobs in two southern Sweden hospitals because she refused to perform abortions. Ellinor Grimmark sued after being told that, if she wished to deliver babies, she had to be willing to abort them, as well. She replied that her Christian faith would not allow that.
It’a not that government officials didn’t care that this violated her religion. They actually seemed to revel in it. One Swedish minister said that “one who refuses to participate in abortions is an extreme religious practitioner.” In the next breath, she mentioned ISIS.
A district court ruled against Grimmark in November 2015. It also slapped her with court costs of 100,000 euros ($107,000).
She has now lost the second round and is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place,” said Robert Clarke of Alliance Defending Freedom International, which intervened in the case. “Instead of forcing desperately needed midwives out of their profession, governments should safeguard the moral convictions of medical staff.”
The is clearly a morality tale. But it’s also about economics. Grimmark’s suffering is due to a local lack of economic freedom in her native Sweden. And her ability to make a living in neighboring Norway is due to the economic freedom she enjoys there.
Government Control, Government Values
The government dominates health care in Sweden. The government agency that Grimmark sued — the Jönköping regional health authority — notes that it “has considerable autonomy and tax-raising powers.” (Undoubtedly.) And it insisted all midwives perform abortions: no excuses, no exceptions.
In Sweden, only government-approved midwives may practice, and training includes abortion.
Sweden is a global outlier in supporting abortion-on-demand. Stockholm funds abortions globally. One Swedish official called President Trump’s restricting U.S. abortion funds “catastrophic.”
When the government controls health care, bureaucrats dictate the values of its participants. This is the opposite of the consumer choosing someone who shares her views.
Make no mistake, there is a market for pro-life OB-GYNs. A friend recently told me she would never see a doctor who would refer anyone for an abortion. Surely mothers should be free to seek out doctors who share their commitment to unborn human life.
Instead, the Swedish government formed a cartel. Only government-approved midwives may practice, and training includes abortion. Like labor unions that refused to admit blacks, the Swedish government has made faithful Christians an excluded minority.
But excluding any worker has consequences — and not just for the workers. Sweden now suffers “an acute midwife shortage,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Eighty percent of the county councils that run local hospitals reported having trouble recruiting midwives last year.”
That’s bad because midwifery “improves as many as 56 health outcomes,” according to the director general of the World Health Organization.
Ironically, at the same time the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs runs an outreach known as Midwives4All “to spread knowledge about the benefits of midwives” worldwide. Physician, heal thyself.
Such are the contradictions of a nation where health care is considered a right but life is not.
Free Markets, Freedom of Conscience
So, what saved Ellinor Grimmark from being locked out of her chosen field completely? Global competition.
Grimmark made the tough decision to commute four hours — each way — to a hospital in Norway. Oslo is no more pro-life than Stockholm. But Norway respects conscience rights. So do 20 of the 28 members of the E.U.
Or maybe Norway just cares more about delivering babies than punishing Christians who refuse to bow the knee to Mammon and Moloch. Whatever the reasons, it’s in Norway’s interest to let Norwegian women benefit from the services of pro-life midwives. Sweden’s loss is their gain.
If Sweden were more tolerant, it would enjoy a larger and more diverse labor force. Its intolerance robs it of workplace diversity and quality reproductive health care.
Despite Sweden’s intolerance, she was free to work across the border in Norway. Her commute — roughly the distance from Scranton to New York City — crosses national borders. The freedom to work in Norway allowed her to be a midwife without breaking the Ten Commandments.
Just governments must respect the right to life and conscience.
She is following in good footsteps. How often in the lives of the saints do we read that they were exiled? St. Athanasius is a famous example. St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Gregory Palamas were exiled numerous times. In fact, in Christian history, fleeing an oppressive homeland is so common that it’s practically a form of pilgrimage.
Immigration is at the heart of many E.U. disputes. “This issue is of the most momentous significance for the future of the world,” wrote Ludwig von Mises in Liberalism. “The fate of civilization,” he wrote, “depends on its satisfactory resolution.”
There are strong cultural reasons that a nation would protect its borders — concerns that Mises called “justified.” And the Bible does not demand open borders. But these concerns don’t apply to someone from a shared culture who is close enough to commute, as Grimmark does.
What let a pro-life midwife serve babies, in other words, was economic freedom.
This is not enough. Just governments must respect the right to life and conscience. Nothing can substitute for a government that enshrines the right of a human being to live his life according to his conscience, and from its beginning until its natural end.
But when people of faith are subject to a government that does not share their views — economic freedom may provide the only protection we have. At the least, it can protect us from some of the forms of harm that secularists might like to visit upon us. (And rest assured: Some of them mean us harm.)
Pro-lifers who don’t car much about economic freedom should to reflect on the ways that it might give us room to work and worship in an otherwise secular culture.
Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute and an Eastern Orthodox priest.