Christian sues NHS over ‘totalitarian’ stance on abortion

John Bingham – telegraph.co.uk May 28, 2012

Margaret Forrester was dismissed for “gross professional misconduct” after giving a colleague a booklet highlighting potential physical and psychological damage some women suffer after an abortion.

She was told that the booklet, in which women who had terminated pregnancies in the past spoke of their regrets, could amount to “offensive” material.

Yesterday the 40 year-old, from Battersea, south London, launched a human rights challenge against her former employer at the High Court.

She accuses the Central and North West London NHS Trust of breaching her freedom of religion and freedom of speech in its treatment of her.

Mrs Forrester, a Roman Catholic, was disciplined after an informal conversation with a colleague in which she discussed her views on abortion while working as a “psychological wellbeing practitioner”.

She was worried that women seeking medical advice were routinely offered abortions without fully considering other options, and passed the colleague a booklet.

A week later she was summoned for a meeting in which she was “interrogated” over her views before being suspended, papers lodged at the High Court say.

She was moved to other duties in what her lawyers say was a “punishment posting” and later went off work with stress.

When she was questioned during disciplinary proceedings she said she did not regret giving her colleague the leaflet and was accused of insubordination, according to her legal challenge.

She was told during the disciplinary proceedings that part of the problem with the booklet was that it was “religious in tone”, according to Mrs Forrester’s legal papers.

The ultimate reason for her dismissal was her refusal to work in a new role in a different mental health team, which her lawyers say involved demeaning tasks.

A spokesman for the Thomas More Legal Centre, the religious freedom charity representing her, said: “The attitude of the NHS in the Margaret Forrester case is not only harmful to its employees.

“By limiting free discussion of the experiences of patients who have had Abortions or any other type of medical treatment the NHS is harming the interests of patients.

“If Abortion is as problem-free as the NHS claims then there should be no objection to the subject being discussed amongst Health Service professionals. “If the NHS is not willing to allow the effects of Abortion to be discussed by NHS staff it raises a real question as to what the NHS is afraid of.”

He added: “If employees of the NHS cannot even discuss the subject of abortion with their colleagues then this means that the NHS has become a dangerously totalitarian organisation with no regard for freedom or diversity.”

A spokesperson for Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust said: “Given the existence of ongoing proceedings it is not appropriate for us to comment in detail.

“The Trust thoroughly disputes these allegations and will continue to defend its position vigorously. We are confident that we will be able to successfully defend these claims.”

Mrs Forrester is currently challenging her sacking in separate employment tribunal case which is not due to be heard until later this year.

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