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Loss of right to conscience costing NHS new midwives it needs

Pro-life groups have claimed that the recent drop in applications to midwifery courses could be rectified by enshrining conscientious objection.

Recent figures show that there has been a 35 per cent drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which analysed the latest Ucas data for England, said the biggest reduction was in those aged 21 or over.

In 2013, more than 12,000 people aged over 21 applied for a midwifery course in England, but by 2017 that figure had dropped to just 6,700 – a decrease of 45 per cent.

The RCM said the abolition of the midwife bursary last August was to blame, although numbers have been falling steadily since 2013.

Alithea Williams from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) suggested that the drop is more likely due to the lack of conscience protection for midwives.

In 2014, Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, dubbed ‘the Glasgow midwives’ and supported by SPUC, lost their court fight for the right to conscientiously opt-out of supervising abortions.

At that time, SPUC commented: “Today’s decision sadly makes it likely that senior midwives who refuse to kill babies will be forced to leave the profession.”

“These words now seem prophetic,” Ms Williams told The Universe. “While there are doubtless many factors behind the drop in applications to midwifery courses, the fact that it has become almost impossible for pro-life people to work in the profession must be one of them.”

Ms Williams pointed out that the issue is highlighted by Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill, which recently passed its second reading.

“Baroness O’Loan also makes the connection between the lack of midwives and the fact that ‘those who labour at the coalface cannot engage in certain activities’,” said Ms Williams.

Professional policy adviser Gabrielle Bourke said the NHS in England is 3,500 midwives short of what is needed to deliver safe, high-quality care and Ms Williams insisted that it is, at the very least, “a grave error” to bar committed and conscientious professionals such as Ms Doogan and Ms Wood from practicing while there is such a devastating shortage of midwives.

“As Mary has said, even midwives who do not consider themselves pro-life struggle with delivering a much-wanted baby one day, and having to assist in terminating another the next,” said Ms Williams. “Abortion and midwives do not go together, and recognising that, and enshrining conscientious objection, would surely go some way to increasing the number of applicants to midwifery courses.”

Meanwhile, Mark Bhagwandin, Senior Education and Media Officer at Life Charity, stressed that pregnant women need to be assured that they will receive prompt and efficient support at the time of their baby’s delivery.

“The need for midwives in sufficient numbers in the NHS cannot be overstated. At a time when the Royal College of Midwives is reporting a shortage of over 3000 midwives, we should be doing as much as possible to encourage people to get into this very noble profession,” Mr Bhagwandin told The Universe.

“A 47 per cent drop in people enrolling for midwifery courses must be of immense concern to all. It would appear that the removal of the midwife bursary is counterproductive in this regard and we would urge the Government to review the current policy with a view to reintroducing some level of incentive for people deciding to study midwifery.”

Picture: A male midwife places a newborn baby in a cot. (Silas Stein/dpa).

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