Doctors back calls for the decriminalisation of abortion
The move was voted for by doctors’ representatives at the British Medical Association (BMA) annual representative meeting on Tuesday (27 June). The BMA has previously opposed changing the current law on abortion
The new policy does not call for an absence of regulation and limits could still be set, but they would be subject to professional and regulatory, rather than criminal, sanctions.
BMA medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm said: ‘This is clearly a sensitive and complex issue, on which doctors voiced a broad range of views during an informed and considered debate.
‘Abortion is currently a crime, with exceptions, throughout the UK. Following the debate the majority of doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.
‘What must be clear is that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. The debate today and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence; the policy does not address the broader issue of when and how abortion should be available. The BMA has established policy on these issues which remains unchanged.’
In response, the Christian Medical Fellowship released a statement expressing its ‘dismay’ at the move.
Speaking after the vote Dr Peter Saunders, Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship commented: ‘This decision defies common sense and the BMA will dismay thousands of ordinary doctors and nurses with their unprecedented decision.
‘What the BMA has chosen to do is back abortion on demand, without restriction including on length of gestation and sex. Anyone will be able to carry out an abortion anywhere by any means in any place at any gestation for any reason. Should Parliament bring forward legislation on a similar basis we would be the third country in the world after China and Canada to remove all safeguards to unborn children.
'Doctors will be dismayed by the British Medical Association decision to back abortion.'
Dr Saunders said the position of the BMA does not enjoy general support among the public, citing a ComRes survey last year found that only 1 per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended above 24 weeks.
‘The polling is very clear that women and indeed the wider public do not support deregulating abortion to allow a free for all,’ said Dr Saunders.
He continued, ‘Decriminalising abortion would remove all protection to unborn babies regardless of any factor, gestation, sex or disability. This would mean that anyone at all could cause the death of an unborn baby in any way whatsoever, with or without the mother’s consent, and be liable only for any damage done to the mother.’
The BMA stated that the debate and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence; ‘it does not address the broader issue of when and how abortion should be available. The BMA has established policy on these issues which remain unchanged as a result of this debate.’
Prior to the debate, more than 1,500 doctors and medical students signed an open letter urging the (BMA) to reject the motion. Dr Saunders said it was ‘highly unusual’ to get so many doctors to sign an open letter challenging the BMA, which indicated the huge concern at this motion.
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