London, England, Jan 21, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- An undergraduate student in a midwife program was barred from placement in a hospital, reportedly due to her pro-life beliefs. The decision was overturned last week, but free speech advocates say the case is troubling.
According to The Telegraph, Julia Rynkiewicz, a 24-year-old student at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., was blocked from entering her program’s hospital placement phase, after the university learned of her pro-life beliefs and her leadership in a pro-life student group.
Rynkiewicz underwent a “fitness to practice” hearing by the school last Monday.
While the university overturned its decision and will allow Rynkiewicz to continue as a midwife student, the investigation and temporary ban from the placement set her back a year in her studies.
Concerns were raised by school officials about Rynkiewicz’s fitness to practice as a midwife after they saw her tending a booth at a school fair in her position as president for Nottingham Students for Life (NSFL), an approved pro-life student group that supports life from conception to natural death.
Just days after the fair last September, Rynkiewicz said she received a letter from officials at her Midwifery School saying that a formal complaint had been filed against her due to her pro-life activities.
The complaint alleged that she had “provided reproductive health advice without the support of a registered midwife and…expressed personal beliefs regarding reproductive sexual health in the public domain (including the press and social media) to the effect that it may create the perception of an impact on patient care,” The Telegraph reported.
“I think it’s important to remember that being pro-life isn't incompatible with being a midwife,” Rynkiewicz, who is a Catholic, told The Telegraph.
The Abortion Act of 1967 in the UK allows for conscientious objection to abortions for healthcare providers.
Rynkiewicz said she is concerned about what her case could mean for freedom of speech on university campuses. “But (universities) should be a place where we can speak up about your beliefs and debate with people in a civilized way so I’m shocked that this happened,” she told The Telegraph.
Pro-life advocacy and legal groups spoke out on behalf of Rynkiewicz, arguing for her freedom of speech and right to conscientious objection.
“What has happened to Ms. Rynkiewicz is a flagrant violation of her moral and legal right to freedom of expression,” Mark Bhagwandin, senior education and media officer at pro-life group Life Charity, told The Telegraph.
Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom International, told The Telegraph that this case “represents a very chilling prospect for freedom of speech on campus.”
“Despite the allegations being dismissed, the practical effect of this investigation is that Julia is now forced to graduate one year later than her classmates. It is to Julia’s credit that she remains absolutely committed to completing her training, caring for women and bringing life into the world,” he added.
“She is now considering her options, as no student should have to go through this kind of daunting process in the absence of clear and compelling reasons.”
Rynkiewicz told The Telegraph that she is demanding an apology from the school, and that she has filed a formal complaint about her case against the school. She added that she is seeking compensation for the stress and inconvenience caused to her, and that she is willing to take her case to court if necessary.
“It all felt a bit ridiculous and I have had to put my life on hold for a year and that’s been frustrating. I have been suspended for almost four months as a result of not being able to attend my placement and been forced to take year-long interruption to my studies. I won’t be back until September and will now be graduating a year later than I wanted to,” she told The Telegraph.
“I would quite like an apology for everything they have put me through. I feel fine about it all now but I would still like them to apologize as a matter of justice. I suppose that they have realized they have done wrong and (I hope they) will change it so no one else has to go through what I have,” she said.
A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham told The Telegraph that it takes fitness to practice investigations seriously, “to ensure they can provide appropriate and professional advice and care to patients.”
The university added that it would be considering ways to help Rynkiewicz reconvene her studies without further delay.
“The student’s complaint will be carefully considered while their School is actively considering how they can recommence their studies without delay,” the school said.