IN 2012, Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan went to law. Experienced midwives in Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, the pair were increasingly anxious about their work. While abortions had always been an occasional feature of their working environment in the Southern General’s labour ward for some years, the two senior practitioners were concerned that recent reforms to the city’s maternity services would bring their ward more and more into the business of organising, facilitating and conducting medical terminations.

Both Wood and Doogan were devout Catholics. Both objected to the participating in abortions on religious grounds. Their rights were enshrined in the Abortion Act, which set out that no one is under any duty to “participate in any treatment” under the legislation. Enter the lawyers – and their funders – stage right.

What do we mean by “participating in treatment” in this context anyway, they asked? It was a cunning question. It was uncontroversial that performing surgery or directly administering drugs to end a pregnancy must engage the conscientious objection rights of NHS workers. But was someone with overall administrative responsibility for a ward “participating in treatment”? Was form-filling and call booking for abortion cases “participating in treatment”? What about assigning a midwife to the case, or supervising their work?

These questions caused considerable consternation as they bounced up the Scottish judicial hierarchy. Doogan and Wood argued their employer could not and should not expect them to do any of these things. Conscience must trump convenience. Interviewed by the Daily Mail last week, the now-retired Doogan likened her sense of moral responsibility to the driver of the getaway car in an armed robbery. “Would the police say that because he wasn’t actually in the bank, brandishing the gun, he isn’t guilty? Of course, they wouldn’t,” she said.

Lady Smith disagreed, suggesting the “logical conclusion” of the midwives’ case was that “the right to conscientious objection would extend to all” including hospital cleaners disinclined to “facilitate” abortions by swabbing the floors in rooms in which they are conducted.

On appeal, a bigger bench disagreed. Lady Dorrian decided conscientious objection must be defined widely to include “the whole process of treatment.” But Brenda Hale had the last word.

In 2014 the UK Supreme Court held that medical practitioners could only object to “direct participation” in abortion procedures. As for everything else? Unlike the getaway driver, the Catholic midwives were – legally – irresponsible and their consciences beyond the law’s protection.

The Doogan case is interesting for any number of reasons, philosophically, legally, politically. As one Catholic blogger perceptively noted when the case was decided, largely absent from our public debate was any sense of why conscientious objection might be thought a good and defensible thing, whatever your attitude to religion or the morality of abortion.

Critics of Doogan and Wood tended to ask – what if every senior midwife in the land took this attitude, wouldn’t this cause chaos? What about peripheral clinics, with less scope and fewer personnel pragmatically to work around the religious preferences of core staffers? Is there a risk we’re giving Christian carers a pocket veto, and forcing women to stray far and afield to access safe abortion care? These aren’t abstract concerns.

The Supreme Court was alive to this danger in Doogan, underscoring that once a medical practitioner “has assumed care of the patient, she needs a good reason for failing to provide that care. But when conscientious objection is the reason, another health care professional should be found who does not share the objection.”

But I do worry this enthusiasm to speed away from the legitimacy of conscientious objection risks missing an important point. Whether we are talking about free expression, or new criminal offences, or folk struggling to square their Christian piety with the demands of their NHS work – Scotland’s illiberal political instincts continue to disturb me. Writing as a hell bound sinner, a recreational homosexual and godless, impious, episodically blasphemous disbeliever – I think we should front up honestly: Lady Hale’s judgment narrowed the potential scope of conscientious objection considerably, in a way likely to cause more than Wood and Doogan considerable moral discomfort. As someone who does not share their views, I’m unconvinced this is unproblematically a Good Thing.

But in retrospect, the Doogan case looks like a legal watershed for another reason: it marked the moment that Scotland’s Christian right forgot politics and learned to love the law.

As far as most Scots are concerned, God is dead. In 2017, just under a quarter of us identified as religious, while 72% didn’t feel much of a spiritual pull. The 2016 Scottish Social Attitude survey recorded that 58% of us belong to no religion – while 41% still feel the cultural pull of the old orthodoxies. In 1984, 854,000 Scots regularly found time in their week to attend religious ceremonies; by 2017, that figure had shrunk to 390,000 regular Sunday churchgoers nationally. The equal marriage debate unsentimentally illustrated that the old religious power brokers had lost their touch and most of their constituencies. Our politicians cast their votes with little fear of a belt of the crozier or the muted thunder from the General Assembly. Scotland has fallen out with God.

The pews may be empty, the ministers may be ancient, their sermons ignored and their congregation sunk in worldliness and cheerful ignorance of the gospel – but the more conservative elements of Christian Scotland have come to realise that where there’s a cash float, there’s a legal case. We now look to America for all our ideas of civilisation, it seems, including our imported culture wars.

At the heart of the latest effort is John Deighan, a low altitude flier and consistently Scotland’s nastiest culture warrior. Mr Deighan was formerly Parliamentary Officer for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, in which role you might have encountered him proselytising with Cardinal Keith against gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally recognised human right.”

Now chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, he is suing the Scottish Government for flouting the Abortion Act.

These days, a medical abortion involves taking two pills – Mifepristone which blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain the pregnancy, and then Misoprostol. The tablets can be given on the same day, or some hours apart. Within an hour of taking Misoprostol women often experience heavy bleeding. Scotland’s medical authorities argue women should be able to take the second pill at home.

Proponents of the change point out the shift will “spare women not only the difficulties associated with having to make more than one clinic visit – childcare, transport, time off work – but it will also spare women from the risk of symptoms on their way home, having taken the medication in a clinic.”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, by contrast, argues this modest innovation “trivialises abortion” and represented “DIY abortions at home” marking “a return to the days of back-street abortions with no medical oversight.” As is so often the case when you give John Deighan the microphone, this rhetoric is repulsive, stupid and counter-productive.

Having invoked the mild and understated parallel of “backstreet abortions”, the high-minded Mr Deighan goes on to condemn “the tragedy” that “many with a vested interest in pushing abortion as a service to women have made the issue a political and cultural football – rather than an issue that is dealt with in the serious and detached manner that it deserves.”

In the death notices, I spot: Irony, 470BC – 2017AD, RIP. At its best, Christianity is a smart tradition, but as Christian Scotland gets a taste for litigation, as its culture warriors strategically choose their battles, as they try to persuade the irreligious of the importance of conscience rights – surely it deserves better, strategic advocates than tasteless hack propagandists like this.