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News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Charity did not break law in giving information about late abortions

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 29 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:716
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A leading British provider of abortions did not break the law when it told women who wanted late terminations about a clinic in Spain that would perform them, a report by Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, concluded last week.

    Professor Donaldson investigated the charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) after a newspaper reported that it was illegally referring women to Spain for abortions after 24 weeks' gestation, the limit in Britain for abortions for “social” reasons.

    Professor Donaldson has decided that BPAS did not break the law by telling women about the Spanish clinic. But he criticised it for giving out the clinic's telephone number too readily and for not giving appropriate advice to women seeking a late abortion.

    He said the charity, which is responsible for around one in four of the abortions performed in Britain, should urgently review the way it handles requests for late abortions, including:

    • Revising its protocol for late abortion cases;

    • Reviewing the training needs of its staff;

    • Putting arrangements in place to ensure that all calls concerning late abortions are passed to an experienced counsellor; and

    • Setting up a system for monitoring the quality of advice given.

    A few days after Professor Donaldson's report was published an unnamed GP from the West Midlands was said by a newspaper to be under police investigation for taking her daughter to the same clinic for an abortion at 31 weeks. According to the story in the Daily Mail (Sep 24: 11) the mother and daughter were to learn this week whether they would face criminal charges, after being arrested last February on suspicion of conspiracy to commit child destruction.

    Professor Donaldson pointed out in his report that women living in one European Union member state are entitled to travel to another member state to have an abortion.

    He recommended the development of a “national best practice protocol” for dealing with late abortions and called on primary care trusts and other abortion providers to identify delays in accessing services and to reorganise their services so as to carry out abortions as early as possible.

    The public health minister, Caroline Flint, said: “The Department of Health has no reason to doubt that BPAS provides a good, safe, and legal abortion service under the Abortion Act 1967 and therefore sees no reason why it should not continue to provide this service to women, nor why primary care trusts should withdraw any contracts they have with BPAS.

    “We will now be working with the relevant professional organisations, the NHS, and BPAS itself to ensure the CMO's [chief medical officer's] wider recommendations are implemented.”

    Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said the charity received around 100 inquiries a year from women seeking advice about late abortions. “The real scandal of late abortion is that services nationally are inadequate to meet the needs of the small numbers of women who require these procedures,” she said.

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