A CATHOLIC social worker is taking legal action against his employers for forcing him out of his job because he would not work in an abortion ward.
Andrew Dixon, a hospital social worker for Derby City General Hospital, refused to attend to patients who were recovering from abortions because his conscience made it impossible to fulfil his duties.
Mr Dixon said that the same situation had arisen before in two Nottingham hospitals in which he previously worked, and his employers had arranged for that part of his job to be delegated to a colleague who had no moral objections.
But Derby City Council told Mr Dixon that he would need a dispensation from a psychiatrist if he wished to carry on working in the hospital while refusing to see abortion patients.
The council said that must put aside his “own personal feelings and prejudices in a non-judgmental way”.
Mr Dixon was referred to a psychiatrist, who told the council that his “reaction to the situation is not normal/appropriate” and was “a primary delusion due to religious belief”.
Mr Dixon felt he had been “browbeaten” into agreeing to be psychoanalysed for his religious beliefs and refused to consent to the dispensation.
He consulted another doctor who said that there was no need for to provide medical grounds for a religious objection and recommended that Mr Dixon return to work.
But the council refused to take Mr Dixon back, saying it had insufficient staff to look after the patients he would not care for. Mr Dixon denies this because there were only, on average, two such cases a year.
He is pursuing legal action against the council and hopes to establish a law based on religious rights in the workplace that will protect pro-life employees.
“I am very angry that Derby City Council is ignor ing its own policies on respect of people’s religious beliefs and do not see my belief in the sanctity of life as a valid viewpoint,” he said. “It is soul-destroying to be told my beliefs, and my whole value system that follows from them, are a cause for psychiatric concern. I have to defend my Catholic beliefs at a dismissal hearing.” Derby City Council would not discuss the specifics of Mr Dixon’s case. “There are a range of issues here which the coun cil is dealing with through its personal policy procedures,” said a spokeswoman.
The Abortion Act contains a clause that allows medical staff to refuse to take part in abortion on grounds of conscience.
However, pro-life campaigners say the clause, which only applies to doctors and nurses, is insufficient because other employees are also obliged to take part in abortions, directly or indirectly.
“If Mr Dixon’s case is successful, we hope it could widen the provision of the conscientious objection clause,” said Martin Foley of Life, a pro-life charity. “We will have to wait and see.” There have been a number of cases involving people who have been sacked or forced to resign because they objected to abortion. So far none has successfully changed the clauses of the Abortion Act.
In 1995, Barbara Janaway, a medical secre tary from Manchester, was sacked by Salford Health Authority for refusing to type a letter referring a patient for an abortion.
“My conscientious objection was that I was setting the ball in motion, I would have been responsible,” she said afterwards. She was reported to her practice manager who told her to “get in the real world”. She still refused to type the letter. She was dismissed for gross misconduct.
In 1996, Stephen Clark, a scientist in Manchester, was sacked after he refused, on religious grounds, to monitor emissions from hospital incinerators that burned aborted foetuses, but he lost his case at tribunal.
“I would no more monitor the stack at a hospital incinerator than I would at the crematoria at Auschwitz,” he said. “The plant was being used for the incineration of human beings after their wilful murder. I would have been taking part in a process that diminished humanity.”