Women wanting abortion won't need to see doctor

(Photo: Roli Seeger)

Draft guidance being considered by the Department of Health will effectively eliminate the need of a woman to meet a doctor before undergoing the termination of a pregnancy.

The guidance relates to the "required standard operating procedures" of private clinics and other health providers when performing abortions and were published with relatively little announcement before Christmas.

A consultation on their content that was due to close today has now been extended until February 3 due to what the Department of Health called an "administrative error".

The proposed guidelines state that while it is "good practice" that at least one doctor sees the patient before she undergoes the procedure, "this is not a legal requirement."

There are also suggestions that medical staff other than doctors may perform the procedure, as long as a doctor "decides upon, initiates and takes responsibility throughout the process".

This is in contrast to the 1967 Abortion act which exempts doctors from prosecution when "pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith".

Andrea Williams, of advocacy group Christian Concern said: "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?"

A spokesman for the Department of Health's press office said "the consultation is only clarifying what the current law is".

Commenting on the lack of direct contact between doctors and pregnant women seeking an abortion, the spokesman said: "In all sorts of medical procedures, the doctor, the medical professionals have a team. They will get the facts together, they will present those to the doctor, and then the doctor will make the judgement … they have to have a full understanding of the facts, but that doesn't mean they have to personally examine the patients."

Earlier this week, public health minister Jane Ellison revealed in Parliament that in 2012, only 46% (83,390) of abortions carried out under Ground C - that is, a request from the pregnant woman, rather than a medically necessary abortion - had a doctor meet with the patient before the abortion was authorised.

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

Mrs Williams spoke out against any moves to further liberalise abortion laws.

"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," she said.

"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.

"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."

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