In February this year, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) announced their support for the decriminalisation of abortion. (1) This followed a consultation to which only 8.2% of their members responded - 4,429 of 53,724 members. 62% of those responding said they supported decriminalisation, which would entail removing the current laws on abortion and replacing them with various medical regulations.
The RCGP now joins the British Medical Association, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Nurses, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Royal College of Midwives who have all proclaimed support for decriminalisation.
In a press release the RCGP state: 'This is about providing non-judgemental care to our patients so that women who face the difficult decision to proceed with an abortion are not disadvantaged by the legal system.' (2) However, it is not evident that women in Great Britain are in any way being 'disadvantaged by the legal system' from having an abortion. With around 200,000 abortions per year taking place in England and Wales and just two convictions of women who have unlawfully procured miscarriages in the last ten years (each acting well after viability), (3) it is a false premise that women who seek abortions are living under the constant shadow of arrest. Maria Caulfield MP describes decriminalisation of abortion as '...a response to a non-existent threat...' (4)
Moreover, decriminalisation would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law, fuelling unethical and unsafe practices. The CQC in 2016 found thousands of unsafe and unprofessional practices in abortion clinics. (5) It would also exacerbate the dangers posed by increased availability of abortion pills. (6) The general public has consistently said that abortion is too readily available. (7) It is also likely that removing current laws would impact the freedom of conscience for medical professionals, who do not consider abortion as being in the best interests of their patients.
It is very disappointing to see the RCGP has joined the abortion decriminalisation bandwagon, especially given that it seems to be the abortion industry and ideology, not evidence, driving the change.
Review by Philippa Taylor, CMF Head of Public Policy