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Doctors' group warns that the rush to decriminalising abortion, could see a return to 'back street' abortions

Published: 24th October 2018

A leading doctors' group has warned that the "politically motivated" rush to decriminalising abortion could see a return to unsafe "back street" abortions.

A leading doctors' group has warned that the "politically motivated" rush to decriminalising abortion could see a return to unsafe "back street" abortions.

The doctors group, the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), issued the warning after MPs debated a Ten Minute Rule Bill to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (NI).

The draft legislation from Labour's Diana Johnson, which passed a first reading yesterday, is scheduled for a second reading on Friday 23 November. If approved, it will remove important safeguards that protect unborn children.

Currently abortion remains a criminal offence, except in circumstances that meet the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act (that does not apply in NI). These include a time limit on when an abortion can be carried out and restrictions on while a foetus can be terminated.

Dr Peter Saunders, Chief Executive of CMF commented: "Prior to the 1967 Act, some desperate women sought the help of 'back street' abortionists, with sometimes catastrophic results in terms of haemorrhage, infection and even loss of life. The Abortion Act provided a legal means of terminating a pregnancy, on certain prescribed grounds. In practice the Act has been interpreted very loosely to provide, which is why 98 per cent of the UK's 200,000 annual abortions are currently carried out on supposed mental health grounds, while nearly four in ten abortions are second or subsequent terminations.

"The politically motivated momentum to decriminalise abortion is not therefore being driven by the need to make access to abortion easier (except in NI). It is the demand for autonomy - that women should have absolute sovereign choice over what happens to their bodies - that is the driver. Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, who has helped lead the campaign behind the bill, put it this way: '…abortion must be fully decriminalised and women finally trusted to make their own reproductive choices for themselves'. Until birth, a child is viewed as a human non-person whose continued existence must depend on the mother's choice."

CMF warn that the Johnson Bill would ensure that:

· Abortion up to 24 weeks was no longer a crime

· After 24 weeks, healthcare professionals might not remain subject to the same restrictions as those contained in the current law

· No crime would be committed by a woman who ends her own pregnancy at any stage

· There would be no legal requirement for two doctors to approve an abortion, which ends a life

· There would be no legal requirement for the termination to be performed under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner

· Gone would be the legal protection against online suppliers of abortion pills or equipment to undertake 'DIY' abortions

Dr Saunders continued: "To suggest that these 'reforms' are in the best interests of women (not to mention their babies) beggars belief. In reality, they would imperil the safety of women, particularly those undertaking unsafe DIY procedures in late pregnancy: the calamitous outcomes of botched attempts, the unintended live births at home of pre-term but still viable babies, the 999 calls for hospital admission. Scaremongering, or just the inevitable dark side of Diana Johnson's brave new world?

"Will any of those mothers pressing for change in the law pause to remember when, in their own pregnancies, they began to bond with the babies they were carrying? When the test went blue? When someone handed them a 12-week scan picture? When they first felt the baby moving? Ann Furedi asks those women to believe that the life of the baby they carry is of less worth than their own, self-aware, choice-making life and is therefore disposable. Such mental and emotional gymnastics can take a toll on some but, if the proposals in Diana Johnson's Bill were ever to become law, gone would be any unbiased setting in which to discuss such risks."

CMF also highlight that the lack of support for the legislation. A recent ComRes poll found that seven in 10 (70 per cent) of women think the current 24-week limit should be reduced further. It also found that nine in 10 (93 per cent) of women agreed that a woman considering abortion should have a legal right to independent counselling from a source that has no financial interest in her decision, while 84 per cent of those surveyed agreed that women who want to continue with their pregnancies, but are under financial pressure to have an abortion, should be given more support.

Dr Saunders concluded: "It remains to be seen whether, or not this Bill will lead to a change in the law - Ten Minute Rule Bills generally run out of parliamentary time. But the outcome of yesterday's vote may encourage its backers to attempt to impose abortion on NI against the express wishes of the people there, taking advantage of the temporary suspension in the functioning of the NI Assembly.

"Rushing to decriminalise abortion on either side of the Irish Sea will imperil the very women it purports to liberate and make the womb an even more perilous place for the unborn than it is already."

For media inquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07970 162225.


For further information:

Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 4,000 British doctor members in all branches of medicine. A registered charity, it is linked to about 65 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian doctors to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

Christian Medical Fellowship:
uniting & equipping Christian doctors & nurses
Contact Phone020 7234 9660
Contact Address6 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1HL
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Registered in England no. 6949436. Registered Charity no. 1131658.
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