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Government promotes further abortion liberalisation through the back door

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New draft guidelines published by the Department of Health state that doctors will no longer be required to see women who are considering an abortion, raising concerns that the proposals will further undermine protections built into the 1967 Abortion Act.

The guidelines relate to the ‘required standard operating procedures’ that govern the practice of private abortion providers, and which were published by the Department of Health before Christmas without widespread notification.

A consultation on the issue was due to close this week (17th Jan) but following ‘an administrative error’ that saw different dates published for the deadline, the closing date has been extended to 3rd February.

The proposals suggest that whilst it is ‘good practice’ that at least one doctor sees a woman considering abortion, ‘this is not a legal requirement’.


They also suggest that non-doctors, such as nurses, may also perform abortions – for example by ‘[administering] the drugs used for medical abortions’ - as long as a doctor ‘decides upon, initiates and takes responsibility throughout the process’.  

Andrea Willams of Christian Concern said: “Putting further distance between doctors and women considering abortion flies in the face of the spirit and letter of the 1967 Abortion Act that put strong protections in place for the sake of women.” 

Exempt from prosecution

The 1967 Act exempts doctors from prosecution when a ‘pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith’ that the situation meets one of the grounds laid out in the Act.

“How can doctors be reaching an opinion in ‘good faith’ when neither of them have actually met with the patient? And how can it be claimed that the pregnancy has been terminated by a doctor when the doctor may not even have been present at key points of the process?” Andrea continued.


However, a further Government revelation this week, suggests that the practice may already be widespread. Responding to a written question from Sir Edward Leigh MP, Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison MP, revealed that in 2012, in only 46% (83, 930) of abortions carried out under Ground C, had a doctor definitely met with the patient before authorising the abortion.

This suggests that in more than 96, 000 cases, no doctor had met with the women considering abortion.

Commenting, Andrea Williams said:

“Recent revelations of gender-related abortion and of the use of ‘pre-signed’ Abortion forms already suggests a level of contempt for proper process and has caused widespread shock. It is remarkable that instead of applying the law and pursuing prosecution, the Government seems happy to acquiesce in this blatant disregard and even to allow further liberalisation, by the back door, buried in regulations.

"Abortion on demand"

“The 1967 Abortion Act clearly and deliberately included the close involvement of doctors in both authorising and conducting abortion.This was to ensure that abortion was carried out only in the rarest of cases. The Act was never meant to pave the way for ‘abortion on demand’ which is effectively what this consultation encourages.

“There seems to be little regard for the seriousness of the abortion procedure for the women involved and the unborn child within them.

"Effectively encouraging the removal of doctors puts patients at risk medically and doctors and nurses at risk legally.”


Dr Peter Saunders of Christian Medical Fellowship said:  “We are seeing a significant change in the practice of abortion.

“This further trivialises the procedure and erodes the protections intended by Parliament for both the unborn child and the woman.”

Dr Saunders has also commented on the proposals in a helpful blog, which you can read here >

For news coverage of the story see:

'Abortion on demand' gets Government ‘green light’ (Daily Telegraph)

Majority of abortions are approved by doctors who haven't met the patient (Daily Mail)

New Government guidelines will allow 'rubber stamping' of abortions (Daily Telegraph)