Mutiny over late abortions
Doctors revolt over planned reform they fear will allow ‘terminations up until birth’
MORE than 600 doctors are in revolt over moves by a top medical body to back abortion on demand.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will today hold a secret vote on relaxing the laws governing the procedure.
But although it represents 6,000 specialists in childbirth and women’s health, only 33 members of its council will take part in the ballot.
A group of 650 doctors have now written to RCOG president Professor Lesley Regan, objecting to her ‘extreme’ views.
If members vote in favour, the RCOG will formally back decriminalising abortions and lobby for law changes.
RELAXING abortion laws would open the door to terminations ‘for any reason’ way beyond the 24-week limit, doctors warned yesterday.
One practitioner claimed the move could create a ‘free for all’.
Doctors have hit out ahead of a secret vote by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to back abortion on demand. Some 650 professionals have written to the body over its decision to deny the majority of its 6,000 members the chance to take part in the ballot.
In a protest letter, they criticise the ‘extreme’ views of the body’s president, Professor Lesley Regan – who has said abortions could be as straightforward as having a bunion removed.
Dr Ronald Jameson, a member of the RCOG from Huddersfield, said a new policy on terminations would ‘almost certainly bring abortion much closer to being a free for all.
‘I firmly believe that the RCOG should be able to vote, and only then will the membership be clear just what the doctors’ vote represents,’ he added.
Dr John Etherton, a GP and RCOG member from Lewes, East Sussex, said the move would ‘open up the gate for easy abortion up to birth’.
‘It sounds very benign to say let’s decriminalise a procedure, it sounds acceptable, but the Saturday’s Daily Mail immediate implications are that it opens the gate for infanticide. That’s very clear.’
The RCOG has made it clear that the move would not allow abortions to be carried out any later than 24 weeks.
The current law – the 1967 Abortion Act – states abortions are illegal without consent from two doctors. Both must agree that continuing the pregnancy would be harmful to her physical or mental health, or that of the unborn child.
The ballot will decide whether the College should formally back ‘total decriminalisation’ allowing consent from just one professional. A vote in favour would put pressure on the Government to overhaul the law.
The protest letter – which will be delivered to the Royal College this morning – urges Profes- sor Regan to hold a ballot of all 6,000 members. It adds: ‘If these measures were to be implemented, it would mean the introduction of abortion for any reason, to at least 28 weeks and possibly up to birth.
‘It is completely unacceptable that all members of the RCOG have not been given the opportunity to vote on this significant change in policy and you have refused to release the wording of the motion until after the general council have voted on this motion. As doctors and medical students, we object to this new extreme position being forced upon members of the RCOG.
‘We represent a variety of positions on the issue of abortion, but believe this motion is out of keeping with both our duties as responsible professionals and the expressed wishes of British women with regards to the legality and regulation of abortion. This move to introduce a radical abortion law is being promoted by a small group of campaigners with extreme views on abortion. Whilst they are entitled to hold the convictions they do we must not let them impose their agenda on the RCOG and risk severely damaging its reputation as a professional body,’ the letter continues.
‘We, the undersigned, wish to state publicly that any policy which seeks to remove abortion from its current legal framework does not represent us or our views.’ A spokesman for the RCOG said that all 6,000 members had been consulted on today’s vote and told to share their views with their council representative.
Latest official figures show 12,0603 abortions were carried out in Scotland in 2016, a slight fall on the previous year.
But there has been a significant rise in recent years in abortions in women in their 30s, from 2,876 in 2008 to 3,277 in 2016.
Last week Prof Regan said it would be ‘perfectly reasonable’
for women to need one doctor’s consent to have an abortion. she compared the procedure to removing a bunion. ‘If you go and get your bunions sorted … you would go to a consultation … then you take a decision and the doctor who was competent to undertake the procedure would sign the form too, and that would go forward,’ she said. Prof regan also said there had been a ‘shift’ in opinion among medical professionals about abortion, with many being in favour of decriminalisation.
Dr Peter saunders of the Christian Medical fellowship, which represents Christian doctors, said the rCoG had an interest in removing abortion from criminal law because so many of its mem- bers practised it. ‘How is this different from bankers asking for fraud to be decriminalised, taxi drivers seeking an end to speed limits, or tenants aiming to abolish rental contracts?’ he said. ‘
surely it is those who most stand to gain by a change in the law who should have least say over how it is framed.’
The vote is due to take place this afternoon although it may be pushed back to tomorrow.
The rCoG said it supports the rights of women to access ‘safe, high-quality abortion care services’. A spokesman said: ‘The vote will not focus on gestational limits for abortion which should remain in place through the appropriate regulatory and legislative process.
‘Whatever the outcome of the vote, the College will continue to support those doctors with strongly held beliefs who consciously object to performing terminations.’
Comment – Page 16
‘Imposing their agenda on us’
Under pressure: Royal College president Lesley Regan