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Pregnancy experts back decriminalisation of abortion

Abortion should be a medical not criminal issue, says RCOG

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 25 September 2017

Medical pregnancy experts have called for a change to the law to remove criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK. 

At the weekend, the council of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) voted strongly in favour of supporting removal of these sanctions and issued a new position statement. 

As the representative body of doctors who provide the majority of abortion services across the UK, the RCOG said in its formal position statement: “We believe that the procedure should be subject to regulatory and professional standards, in line with other medical procedures, rather than criminal sanctions. 

“Abortion services should be regulated; however, abortion - for women, doctors and other healthcare professionals - should be treated as a medical, rather than a criminal issue.” 

It was not calling for any change in gestational limits for abortion which it believed should remain in place through the appropriate regulatory and legislative process. 

“We have come to this consensus following a discussion at the RCOG council, where council members voiced a broad range of views during an informed and considered debate on the needs of the women and girls for whom we provide this very necessary service,” said the college. 

The RCOG’s position is in line with other parts of the medical profession which supports a change to the law that currently insists that without permission, abortion is a criminal offence. 

At the BMA’s annual conference held in June, doctors voted for a motion that called to drop the current rule in law that says in order for women in England, Wales and Scotland to get permission for a termination, they have to prove to a doctor that carrying on with the pregnancy is detrimental to health or wellbeing. 

Northern Ireland only allows an abortion to take place if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. 

Professor Lesley Regan, RCOG president, said: “I am pleased that the council of our college has voted in support of removing criminal sanctions associated with abortion. Having a formal position on decriminalisation will enable the college to usefully contribute to the debate surrounding what a post decriminalisation landscape might look like.

“I want to be clear that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation and abortion services should be subject to regulatory and professional standards, in line with other medical procedures. 

“I strongly believe that the college has a responsibility to protect women’s health by ensuring access to this key healthcare service.” 

A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: “We welcome the decision of the RCOG to support a woman’s right to make her own choice when it comes to her pregnancy and ensure that healthcare professionals do not risk criminal prosecution as they provide women with safe, effective clinical care. 

“The college has been clear that decriminalisation of abortion does not mean de-regulation – it simply means that abortion would be governed by the same robust healthcare laws and clinical standards that all other medical procedures are subject to.” 

Dr Anthony McCarthy, education and communications director for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “Today the leadership of the RCOG has betrayed its members, women and their babies, and the medical profession.

“By supporting a campaign to trivialise abortion, i.e. a lethal attack upon an unborn child, that leadership has betrayed Hippocratic principles and opened the door to a laissez-faire and in effect deregulated abortion industry.”

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