„Sweden claims to be very tolerant, but in fact is very intolerant”. Interview with Ruth Nordstrom (Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers)

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Interview with Ruth Nordström, president of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers (www.shrl.eu) and of Provita Sweden (www.provitasweden.org)
  1. In Sweden there is no right to conscientious objection formally recognized. How many doctors/nurses refuse to perform/assist abortions? What are the risks that medical personnel are taking when opposing to perform/assist/host an abortion?

We know about some cases and most famous in Sweden right now is the case of Ellinor Grimmark, the Swedish midwife who was refused three jobs at different hospitals because of her refusal to perform abortions. We are now taking her case to the Swedish courts to claim compensation for discrimination and infringements of her right to conscientious objection.

Some individuals have an oral or written agreement with the hospital they work at, but in many cases people avoid the jobs where they need to perform abortions or quit jobs where they have to act against their conscience. The risk you take when you refuse to perform abortions is primarily that you could lose your job because of refusal to perform your working tasks.

In October the Swedish medical journal, Dagens medicin, published a letter that had come to the Board of Health and Welfare where a Swedish midwife, who had been working for 36 years feared she would have to perform late term abortions again because of some organizational changes at the clinic where she works. She asked the Board if she had to quit her job now, as she had horrific memories from when she had to assist in late term abortions previously.

Ruth-Nordstrom-Ellinor-Grimmark
Ruth Nordstrom (right) and Ellinor Grimmark
  1. Is there any other country in Europe that does not recognize this right for doctors/nurses?

There are very few, Finland is one of the few countries, but there is a discussion going on about the issue right now.

  1. What concrete steps do you as a lawyers association take to ensure this right is recognized and respected? How can we, from Romania, help you?

We are, as mentioned above, taking the case of the midwife Ellinor Grimmark to court. She was promised a job as midwife at the hospital she already worked at but was subsequently denied after saying she wouldn’t perform abortions. She was denied three jobs on this ground and was told she shouldn’t have become a midwife with opinions like these. If needed we will take this case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. We need help to spread the news of how Sweden is denying people this basic human right and other countries can put pressure on Sweden in different ways, e.g. by newspaper articles, to adjust to the standards of the rest of Europe.

  1. What is the current status of abortion in Sweden (legal limits, financing, who can perform it etc.)

Abortion on demand until week 18 and with special permission from the Board of Health and Welfare between week 18-22. Permission would be given if the child is e.g. handicapped, the mother is young or for social reasons. Abortions are funded by the state through taxpayer money and performed at hospitals. This is part of the problem because midwife’s work both with birth and abortion at the same hospital.

  1. Sweden is regarded in Romania as a „social-liberal paradise”. Recently we learned that an important human trafficking conference was cancelled just because you and other organizers oppose abortion and support the right to conscientious objection – even if these matters were not related in any way to the topic of the said conference. How do you explain such a totalitarian behavior in a country that is supposed to be ultra-liberal?

Sweden is very liberal and claims to be a tolerant country, but in fact is very intolerant to certain, more conservative, views. We have a consensus society where everybody has to agree, or else you are put on hold at the sidelines. By applying the word “anti-abortion” and other sensitive words to anyone who wants to discuss the abortion laws or conscientious objection in Sweden some lobby groups try to limit the debate and pressure people to silence.

The fact that the anti-trafficking conference at Uppsala University was cancelled due to our views on other issues and our legal defense of the midwife Ellinor Grimmark (mentioned above) shows this fear of association and debate in a very clear way.

  1. What is the status of marriage in Sweden? What is the opinion of different Christian Churches regarding redefining marriage? Are there any denominations who accept to perform „wedding celebrations” for same sex couples?

We have a gender neutral marriage law in Sweden since May 2009 and the former state church, the “Church of Sweden” (Lutheran, n.n.) started to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in November 2009. Most other denominations are more negative to this as marriage is by definition a union between a man and a women and created to protect the couple’s children.

  1. What are, in your opinion, the lessons that we in Romania can learn from your experience in Sweden?

What is often claimed as freedom and tolerance can in fact lead to intolerance in a society many times, especially towards religious groups. Be active and promote your issues when there is still an open climate for debate as other groups with other agendas will be sure to do the same. (interview by B.S.)