Guest blog: A word to my fellow midwives and nurses in Northern Ireland

I worked in the NHS for 46 years (40 of them as a midwife) and am retired now. Being a midwife was more than a job to me, it was a vocation. I cared a great deal about the women in my care and enjoyed supporting them through some of the most memorable occasions of their life. However, the greatest privilege was being part of bringing new life into the world.

One issue I had to face and fight was having to participate in terminations of pregnancy. Although I wouldn’t be required to administer any abortifacient drugs, I was told I had a duty of care towards the woman during her abortion. To me, this still made me feel complicit in the abortion act and therefore I lodged my conscientious objection in writing several times because, as we acquired new managers, they tried to challenge me to change my practice. The new regulations in Northern Ireland go further than this, to where midwives will be asked to directly prescribe the abortifacient drugs.

Under the new regulations,

No person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by the Regulations to which the person has a conscientious objection.

This is your right to exercise when you feel you may be compromised. We all have values and beliefs which we work to uphold, so if you hold a conscientious objection to abortion, my personal advice would be to talk to your managers as soon as possible. I note that

79% of the participants in the original consultation registered their general opposition to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland, beyond that which is currently permitted.”

This would suggest to me that you would not be alone in making objections to the new practice.

As nurses and midwives in the community you will be expected to carry out medical terminations in GP practices and clinics provided by Health and Social Care. But the girl or woman needs counselling and space to understand the steps she is taking, and I would suggest that your clinics might be too busy to allow for that. Life NI has some excellent services available which include non-directive skilled listening and counselling (face to face or through online services), perinatal services, housing, and practical support. Where possible, I’d advise you to make sure that you collect as much information about services like these where you can – especially since no provision has been made for providing them in the new regulations.

Towards the end of my career, I was made aware that certain questions about a midwifery applicant’s personal approach to termination were being asked as a matter of course during interviews. On more than one occasion, students who I was mentoring, shared with me that when they’d been asked about their personal approach, they’d felt they had to modify their answers in order to be seriously considered for training. I remember one saying specifically, “I don’t believe in terminations but had to agree in order to fulfil my life’s dream of being a midwife.” My heart goes out to those people who want to serve the NHS but who fail at interview when questioned about their approach to termination. Surely this cannot be a measure of our future carers. Please don’t let these new regulations destroy what it means to be a midwife.

I wish you all the very best of luck over the next few weeks and months as the new regulations come in, but don’t forget – you have the freedom to object.


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One person is talking about Guest blog: A word to my fellow midwives and nurses in Northern Ireland

  1. Christina Byrne says:

    Sadly this scenario has been with us since the abortion act was introduced. As a junior doctor at that time I was advised that I should not contemplate applying for registrar jobs in obstetrics and gynaecology in spite of showing good skills at SHO level. I often wonder how many more like minded people were discriminated against.
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