By Sarah Ditum

WeNews correspondent

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Polls show most U.K. citizens support a woman’s right to choose abortion. But U.S.-style anti-choice tactics are picking up speed and fostering an aggressive activism movement marked by website hacking and clinic vigils.

BATH, England (WOMENSENEWS)–The United Kingdom may be a pro-choice nation in polling data, but U.S.-style anti-choice tactics are being used to attack that consensus.

Seventy percent of U.K. citizens polled in 2011 said it was a woman’s right to choose whether she continues her pregnancy.


But this pro-choice majority has long been opposed by vocal anti-abortion groups, such as the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, founded in 1966. And now U.S. anti-choice groups have expanded into the U.K., bringing more aggressive tactics that overshadow the homegrown movement.


One such organization is 40 Days for Life, founded in College Station, Texas, in 2004. The group’s self-proclaimed tactic is what they call peaceful prayer outside abortion clinics. (Its name refers to the length of the biannual vigils the group conducts.) However, employees of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have reported that members of one vigil approached women attending the Bedford Square in London clinic. The Guardian has also reported that clinic workers accused 40 Days activists of filming people entering the clinics.


A second group, Abort67, is the English offspring of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-choice lobby group with headquarters in Lake Forest, Calif. The group, founded by Greg Cunningham, a former advisor to President Ronald Reagan, has more extreme tactics than 40 Days. Primarily active in Brighton and London, they display graphic images of late-term fetuses outside clinics in protest.


This type of graphic protest, fairly uncommon among British anti-choice groups, has proven to be an effective scare tactic. A rape victim, who walked through a protest by Abort67 to enter an abortion clinic, told her local paper it left her feeling “intimidated… panicky and judged.”


Website Hacking

Beyond protests, the criminal hacking of an abortion provider’s website here also had U.S. ties. In April, James Jeffrey was convicted of attacking a British Pregnancy Advisory Service website and stealing the personal information of 10,000 women who had registered with the site. He was also convicted of vandalizing the site with slogans referring to the “abortion industry,” a term with roots in U.S. anti-abortion rhetoric.


Following Jeffrey’s conviction, the BBC reported 2,500 attempts to hack the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s website again, with more than half of those attacks originating in the United States.


Parliamentary efforts are also taking a harder anti-choice line. Conservative Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries has twice attempted to introduce legislation to lower the legal limit for abortion in the U.K. to 21 weeks from 24 weeks.


After these attempts failed, Dorries began casting aspersion on abortion providers. She criticized counseling provided by clinics as “biased” during a parliamentary debate on National Health Service practices in September last year.


The charge – common in the U.S. anti-choice movement – implied that providers were financially motivated profiteers. It has since gained currency within mainstream right-wing papers in the U.K., such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.


This is despite the fact that the vast majority of U.K. abortions are provided either by not-for-profit bodies (mostly Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) on behalf of the National Health Service, or by the National Health Service itself. Just 4 percent of abortions are privately funded, according to the Department of Health.


Committee Established

Although Dorries’ amendment was defeated, Anne Milton, the parliamentarian under secretary of state for health, said during the September debate that she was sympathetic to Dorries’ aims. She established a committee to discuss the possibility of independent abortion counseling. Dorries is on that committee, which was due to submit a report at the end of April that hasn’t been published yet.


Pro-choice M.P. Diane Abbott resigned from the committee in January, calling it a front for anti-abortion ideology.


In the face of these attacks, U.K. pro-choice activists are becoming increasingly organized. In Brighton and London, where 40 Days for Life has been most active, an initiative called “40 Days of  Treats” delivered cakes and biscuits to the affected clinics for every day of the 40 Days for Life’s vigil.


When the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child held roadside vigils to mark the anniversary of the 1967 abortion act–which legalized abortion in cases where a woman’s health or life is at risk or if a child is likely to be born with a serious mental or physical disability–pro-choice activists throughout the U.K. held counter-protests.


Local groups have offered leadership in the pro-choice cause. The Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance in London and the Brighton Feminist Collective have been particularly engaged in organizing direct action and producing literature to refute alarmist claims of anti-choice groups.


On May 16, a pro-choice parliamentary meeting organized by the Abortion Rights Campaign brought activists, journalists, abortion providers and parliamentarians together to discuss how best to resist attacks on the right to choose.


But these groups are now clearly on the defensive.


In March, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered inspections of every abortion clinic in the U.K., following a sting operation by the Telegraph newspaper. Doctors who provide abortions say this has left them feeling attacked and demoralized.


Clare Murphy, head of public policy at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said in an article for the Independent in March that there is a worrying possibility that doctors will be deterred from training to perform abortions at all.


Sarah Ditum lives in Bath, England. She is a freelance journalist on politics, family and health.

The Daily Telegraph breathlessly reports that the National Health Service is spending £1 million a week on carrying out “repeat abortions”; that is, on women who have had abortions in the past. Some particularly crafty ladies have gotten away with up to nine free abortions!

Is it problematic that the NHS is spending that much money on abortions? Yes, because that means women are having trouble accessing the contraception they need to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy, an issue that the Telegraph actually reported on three days ago in an article called, “Women finding access to contraception ‘difficult'”. The article reported that four in ten women who unintentionally became pregnant had problems getting contraception, and that areas where it’s hard to access contraception have higher abortion rates.

It’s incredibly frustrating that the reporter who wrote the “repeat abortion” piece did not once refer to the statistics that were published just days before by the same fucking paper. Instead, she warps numbers and quotes pro-life sources to push the idea that the number of “repeat abortions” is indicative that, as one antiabortion supporter is quoted as saying, “abortion is being seen by many as a form of contraception. But is this surprising when we live in a society which says it’s all right to have an abortion once. If it’s fine once, why not two, three or four times.” That quote makes me want to go DAHKJDHASJHADAHKDA. But, instead, let’s break down the reasons why this article is bullshit.

In the very first sentence, we learn that, “in some cases,” women are getting up to nine abortions! Wouldn’t that statistic make even the most pro-choiciest of pro-choicers somewhat concerned? Later, however, we learn that only 85 women across the entire country had an abortion for the eighth time in 2010. Sorry, Telegraph and antiabortion advocates everywhere, but that’s a negligible amount of people. It’s also unspecified whether these women took RU486; they may not have even had surgery.

The only other numbers we get are that, in 2010, “189,000 terminations took place, with more than 64,000 of them being performed on someone who had already undergone the procedure.” That’s a far less incendiary — and far more vague — statistic, isn’t it?

We also learn that “five out of every six repeat terminations being requested by a woman who is unmarried.” THANKS! That’s really important information, definitely more crucial than, say, information on access to contraception. Would it be okay if more married women wanted abortions?

The Department responded to the statistics by saying that there’s no evidence that proves women are using abortion as a method of birth control and that abortion rates have increased only slightly in the last ten years. In the Telegraph article that ran a few days before, Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:

“There has been much government focus on ‘problems’ with abortion services, despite evidence that women receive high quality care when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. At the same time, real and pressing problems with women’s access to the contraception they need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy in the first place appear low down the list of government priorities.

Policy to guide family planning services, which could help prevent these pregnancies, is now a year overdue.

Women need access to high-quality contraceptive services that are not restricted on the basis of age or location, with straightforward access to abortion care when their method lets them down.

We call on policy-makers to deliver a sexual health strategy that empowers healthcare professionals to deliver the contraception and abortion services that women in the 21st Century need and deserve.”

The Telegraph leans conservative and is clearly pro-life; remember their recent undercover investigation in which they purportedly filmed doctors agreeing to “illegal abortions” on the basis of a baby’s sex? If you read the piece, it’s clear that the doctors were just trying to do their job without judging their patients: “I don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination,” one doctor said. This nonjudgmental attitude is apparently not okay with theTelegraph, which is bent on convincing the country that women are wily sluts who want to get dozens of abortions so they can sleep around and, on the off-chance they decide to have a child, “illegally” decide its sex.

The paper’s plight would be laughable and pathetic if it wasn’t so terrifying: if the takeaway for readers is that women are carelessly getting tons of abortions — I mean, seriously, this whole thing reminds me of the genius Onion Abortionplex article that some people didn’t realize was satire — that will only hurt the women who desperately need access to contraception in the real world.

This is how it should be:

Women will soon be able to get the morning after pill delivered by courier to their home or office.

By Murray Wardrop

7:30AM BST 17 Apr 2012

A new service will allow women to order emergency contraception on the internet, so it arrives within two hours, rather than having to see their GP to obtain the drugs.

Critics argue that it will encourage under age sex by making it too easy to obtain the morning after pill.

For £20, women will be able to order the drugs by filling out an online form through the internet medical practice

The forms, which ask users to confirm they are aged over 18, will be assessed by doctors before pills are dispatched by courier.

Pills can be delivered within two hours on a normal working day, although it may also be possible for women to order online overnight for delivery the following morning.

Amit Khutti, founder of DrEd, said young girls would be deterred because dates of birth were requested during registration and patients needed a credit card.

He said: “I don’t think this service is going to appeal to minors or encourage under age sex.

“For a start, you need to pay for the service and if you’re young there are a number of places you can already get the morning after pill free.

“Emergency contraception works better the sooner you take it, so having it delivered within two hours will make it more likely to be effective.”

Mr Khutti said that previously the company could only offer emergency contraception in advance online because of problems ensuring it arrived in time to work – it is most effective within 36 hours of having sex.

He said: “It’s not ethical to provide a service that arrives too late.”

The courier service will begin in London this month but will be extended to other cities if it proves successful.

Mr Khutti added: “It will arrive at the office in discreet packaging so women won’t be embarrassed. Socially, some people are still put off by having to answer questions face to face about why they need emergency contraception.”

Norman Wells, from the Family Education Trust, said girls could easily lie about their age to access the pills and it should remain a prescription-only drug.

He said: “Since the morning-after pill was first approved for use in the UK, various schemes have been introduced to make it more widely and more easily available, yet the international research evidence continues to show that making it more readily available has not succeeded in reducing unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.

“Instead, young people in particular have been lulled into a false sense of security, take a more casual attitude to sex, and become exposed to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.”

Pharmacies already offer the morning-after pill over the counter for around £25.

In 2010/11 about 120,000 morning after pills were prescribed to reduce the workload of GPs.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has an online service which allows women to request emergency contraception and stock up in advance.

They speak to a nurse over the phone before it is delivered free of charge to their home.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, has previously criticised that scheme, saying he would prefer pills to be issued after a face – to – face consultations with medical professionals.


23 March 2012

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, yesterday announced to the UK media that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) would be carrying out a series of ‘unannounced inspections’ on abortion clinics throughout the UK to ensure that doctors are complying with the ‘spirit and the letter’ of the 1967 Abortion Act. Jennie Bristow reports.

This action, which Lansley confirmed in a statement to Parliament today, 23 March (reproduced below), is allegedly a response to concerns that doctors are ‘pre-signing’ the HSA1 abortion forms. ‘The process of pre-signing certificates where the doctor does not know who the woman is for whom that certificate may be used in relation to that abortion is in itself illegal. I am not prepared to tolerate a failure to respect the law,’ Lansley said in a press statement yesterday.

He further stated: ‘The CQC has agreed to undertake unannounced inspections to identify the scale of this problem and we will set up a special team comprising of all the necessary regulators… to look at how we stamp out bad practice in abortion clinics.’

The BBC gives a more measured explanation of the law regarding the HSA1 form. ‘Except in emergencies, the law says two doctors must certify an abortion. However, there is no requirement for them to have actually seen the woman – only that they should have seen and assessed the necessary clinical information about her case, which could have been taken by another doctor or nurse.’

Lansley’s concern is that this ‘second signature’ is being provided before the doctor has reviewed the relevant notes. This is not the practice of most abortion providers, including British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). However, launching a wave of CQC inspections on the basis of forms potentially being pre-signed in some other clinics is a strange and heavy-handed action, for three reasons.

First, the second doctor’s signature has been long understood to be a legal, rather than a clinical, safeguard; arising from attempts in the 1960s to pass a controversial new law in the form of the Abortion Act. As such, many politicians – including Lansley himself – have questioned whether it is necessary to retain this cumbersome and clinically irrelevant requirement in the 21st century.

As the BBC explains, ‘The requirement for two doctors’ signatures was criticised as long ago as 2007, when a report by MPs on the Commons science and technology committee recommended it be removed because of the potential for abortions to be unnecessarily delayed.’ And Andrew Lansley himself, during the debate about the abortion law that took place in 2008, said:

‘If a woman needs an abortion in terms sanctioned by the Abortion Act 1967, it must surely be better for it to be an early, medical abortion than a later, surgical one. I therefore hope that the House will consider whether the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed, and the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions, need to be maintained.’

So it is strange indeed that the Health Secretary, busily engaged as he is in controversial reforms of the entire health service, should now view strict adherence to the ‘two doctors’ requirement as a sudden issue of major clinical concern. His quote in yesterday’s press statement could not be more different from the temperate approach that he took four years ago. On 22 March 2012, Lansley argued:

‘I am shocked and appalled to learn that some clinics – which look after women in what are often difficult circumstances – may be allowing doctors to pre-sign abortion certificates. This is contrary to the spirit of the Abortion Act. The rules in the Abortion Act are there for a reason – to ensure there are safeguards for women before an abortion can be carried out.’

The second peculiarity of this shock wave of inspections is that the ‘evidence’ upon which they have been launched seems remarkably thin. It seems to have come out of police investigations launched on the back on the Daily Telegraph’s investigation into ‘sex selection’ abortions last month, which itself found little evidence that such abortions were carried out.

There may be more basis Lansley’s concerns than a flimsy newspaper investigation – but we do not know. And this is the third and most striking peculiarity of today’s Parliamentary statement: that the media were briefed about it before any of the clinics whose work it might concern.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said: ‘Abortion doctors provide an important service to women who are often in difficult circumstances. Their work is already intensely scrutinised, with clinics regularly inspected by the CQC.

‘Mr Lansley says he is shocked and appalled by the practices he has uncovered. BPAS is shocked and appalled that Mr Lansley has found it necessary to inform journalists of alleged breaches of the abortion law before he has informed those responsible for providing the services that have been investigated, and before the investigation is concluded.’


Enforcement of the Abortion Act 1967
Friday 23 March 2012

BPAS will seek meeting with Department of Health to raise concerns about climate of anti-abortion protests

Ben Quinn, Tuesday 13 March 2012 18.22 GMT

Britain’s largest abortion provider has warned it is facing “a new era” in terms of the actions anti-abortion protesters are prepared to take, after it called police to one of its London clinics where women were being filmed arriving and leaving.

Activists are holding prayer vigils outside the branch of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) on a daily basis as part of the 40 Days for Life campaign, which is affiliated to a US anti-abortion network and whose activities have been endorsed by the more established Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

The campaign – which has said in the past that it uses cameras to protect its members from attack – attempted to distance itself from the incident involving police on Monday, saying the cameraman was not associated with it and meant no harm.

It comes after a West Midlands man pleaded guilty on Saturday to hacking into the BPAS website. The organisation now says it will seek a meeting with the Department of Health to raise concerns about the current climate of anti-abortion activism.

A BPAS spokesperson said recent political initiatives by some MPs had contributed to the changing climate. “The language that has been used by MPs very definitely has consequences in terms of what protesters are now saying to women outside of our clinics,” she said.

“A culture seems to be being fostered where protesters (when they are not filming) think it is entirely acceptable to harangue women outside centres and tell them if they go inside they will be lied to. There is certainly evidence of women being really quite distressed and feeling intimidated on what can already often be quite a difficult day for them.”

She said BPAS was reluctant to embrace US pro-choice actions such as having volunteers escort women past protests, but the presence of anti-abortion activists outside the BPAS clinic in Bedford Square on one recent day had been such that members of the public had intervened to escort women inside.

On Tuesday, a solitary participant in the 40 Days for Life campaign was reciting the rosary across the road from the clinic. On the ground beside him was a large banner that read: “Praying for an end to abortion and offering help,” as well as a box containing a number of small plastic foetuses. At other times, the campaign’s own “counsellors” approach women on the street.

The man, who did not want to give his name, said he and others were there to pray for a change of heart on the part of women coming to the clinic.

“I’ve been here since the morning. I keep my distance and hand out some of our leaflets and magazine. There was a lady here this morning and she said that she was going to keep her baby after all and that made what we are doing over 40 days entirely worthwhile,” he said.

The campaign used Twitter to announce this week that it had achieved its first “turnaround” outside the clinic, claiming that a woman named Melanie had decided not to go ahead with her visit. Other turnarounds were said to have taken place in Brighton.

The organisation has called for a big turnout on 30 March when, it said, a vigil would be led by the Catholic bishop of Westminster, Alan Hopes.

Other anti-abortion organisations have held gatherings outside abortion clinics in recent days. Activists said more than 170 people took part in a vigil outside a BPAS clinic in east London on Saturday organised by Helpers of God’s Precious Infants UK, a Catholic group, with the support of local churches in the area.

The official representative of the local Catholic bishop, Thomas McMahon, read out a letter of support during an opening mass. In Brighton, Abort 67 held aprotest outside a clinic on Tuesday.

At the weekend, James Jeffery, who used the handle “Pablo Escobar”, pleaded guilty to two offences under the Computer Misuse Act after hacking into the BPAS site on Thursday. He defaced the front page with an anti-abortion message and the Anonymous logo, and took details of people who had visited the site looking for advice.

Robert Colquhoun, a spokesman for 40 Days for Life, said: “40 Days for Life conducts a peaceful, prayerful and legal vigil in London. The central point of our vigil is to pray for an end to abortion and show that that is a love in community that can help a woman to choose life for her unborn child.

“Since our campaign started in September 2010, we estimate that more than 30 women have chosen life for their unborn children as a result of our campaign through prayer and also through an offer of love, help and support during a difficult time.

“We have a statement of peace that sets the tone and ethos of our prayer vigil as a peaceful and prayerful event. Since our campaign started, we have received a very large number of insults and threats. At times, members of the vigil have filmed themselves in order to protect themselves from these threats. We do not encourage anybody to film members of the public during our campaign.”

By Sophie Borland

PUBLISHED: 00:22 GMT, 9 March 2012 | UPDATED: 03:36 GMT, 9 March 2012

An activist claims to have hacked into the website of Britain’s largest abortion clinic.

He claims to have the ‘entire database and contact details’ of women who had contacted the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and warned that information would be released today.

BPAS has been quick to reassure women who have had treatment that he would have been unable to access any medical or personal information about them, saying there is no danger their names were about to be made public.

The clinic’s website is down, so cannot be viewed. A message says it is ‘undergoing maintenance’.

Yesterday the unnamed activist wrote a message on Twitter  claiming he had ‘hacked’ into the  website of BPAS, which sees 50,000 women a year. ‘Database dump will be released tomorrow [Friday]’ he added.

Later he wrote another message under the pseudonym Pablo Escobar saying: ‘British Pregnancy Advisory Service has been attacked because they kill unborn children that have no rights. It’s murder.’

When another user of the website suggested his claims were untrue, he wrote: ‘Wrong. We have their entire database and customers’ contact details.’

Last night the chief executive of BPAS, Ann Furedi, said: ‘It’s not true that women’s details are going to be leaked. What I can say is that we are confident that women are not going to be at risk.’

The protester also put a picture on Twitter apparently showing the BPAS website after it had been hacked.

On the website’s homepage was a hacker’s logo and message which read: ‘An unborn child does not have an opinion, a choice or any rights. Who gave you the right to murder that unborn child and profit from that murder?

‘The product, abortion, is skilfully marketed and sold to women at the crisis time in her life. She buys the product, and wants to return it for a refund. But it’s too late.’

Later a spokesperson for BPAS confirmed: ‘The website of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) was hacked into and defaced for a period on 8th March, 2012 in what appeared to be a sophisticated cyber attack by an anti-abortion extremist.

‘Around 26,000 attempts to break into our website were made over a six hour period, but the hacker was unable to access any medical or personal information regarding women who had received treatment at bpas.

‘The website does store details (names, addresses and phone numbers) of people who have requested information from bpas via the website, including those making personal inquiries as well as health and education professionals, the media and students.

‘These may have been inquiries relating to contraception, pregnancy, abortion, STI testing and sterilisation.

‘All relevant authorities have been informed and appropriate legal action taken to prevent the dissemination of any information obtained from the website.’

BPAS, which was founded in 1968, is a charity which provides abortions and counselling in 40 centres in England and Wales.

It does not receive direct funding from the Government but is paid by the NHS for some of its services, such as carrying out abortions in some hospitals and providing contraception.

The real Pablo Escobar was a Colombian drug baron, believed to have fuelled the U.S. cocaine trade during the 1980s.

The hacker’s account bore the logo of the notorious hacking group Anonymous, a collection of loosely connected online hackers from around the world.

But last night other alleged members of the group on Twitter were distancing themselves from the ‘Pablo Escobar’ tweeter, claiming he was not a member.

Anonymous is a sister group of the hacking community Lulzsec, which this week had four members arrested after an FBI sting operation.

The group’s chief, Hector Xavier Monsegur, was arrested by the FBI in June last year and worked with the agency to arrest some of the network’s most high-profile hackers.

Lulzsec members have been behind several significant online security breaches, including taking the CIA website offline and stealing from Sony’s database.

09.19.11 – In May, the U.N. Committee against Torture reviewed the Republic of Ireland’s initial periodic report. The Committee’s concluding observations reiterated the European Court for Human Rights’ concerns expressed in its judgment in the case of A, B, and C v. Ireland , to which the Center for Reproductive Rights, and their partner, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief.
Abortion is banned in Ireland except when a woman’s life is in danger, and the Irish legislature has failed to establish criteria in legislation for when this exception for life-threatening conditions applies. The Committee expressed concerns over Ireland’s lack of effective and accessible procedures to establish “whether some pregnancies pose a real and substantial medical risk to the life of the [pregnant woman].”   Furthermore, the Committee found that, legislation being vague, both woman and provider being at risk of criminal repercussions along with the absence of an appeal process, may “raise issues that constitute a breach of the Convention.” The Committee specifically cited concerns for vulnerable populations, such as minors, migrant women, and women living in poverty.
The Committee urged Ireland to adopt a clear legal framework with respect to the scope of legal abortion, and to ensure adequate procedures are in place  to challenge differing medical opinions and to provide “adequate services for carrying out abortions” in the state.
The Center welcomes this initiative and urges Ireland to take immediate action to implement the U.N. Committee’s recommendations and expand access to safe and legal abortion.

Concern about termination services is rising, with fewer doctors willing to perform the procedure, DoH says

Denis Campbell, health correspondent, Monday 18 July 2011 23.30 BST
A survey of medical students has found that almost half believe doctors should be allowed to refuse to perform any procedure to which they object. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Pregnant women could find it harder in future to obtain an abortion because of the growing number of doctors who are opposed to carrying out terminations.

A survey of medical students has found that almost half believe doctors should be allowed to refuse to perform any procedure to which they object on moral, cultural or religious grounds, such as prescribing contraception or treating someone who is drunk or high on drugs.

Abortion provoked the strongest feelings among the 733 medical students surveyed, according to the study in the Journal of Medical Ethics. “The survey revealed that almost a third of students would not perform an abortion for a congenitally malformed foetus after 24 weeks, a quarter would not perform an abortion for failed contraception before 24 weeks and a fifth would not perform an abortion on a minor who was the victim of rape,” said researcher Dr Sophie Strickland.

“In light of increasing demand for abortions, these results may have implications for women’s access to abortion services in the future,” she added.

Concern about termination services is rising, with fewer doctors willing to perform the procedure, according to the Department of Health. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has voiced concern about the “slow but growing problem of trainees opting out of training in the termination of pregnancy and is therefore concerned about the abortion service of the future”.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “Abortion is taught increasingly infrequently in medical school, and students may not be required to engage much with the reasons why a woman may find herself with an unwanted pregnancy and the distress this may cause. All of us involved in women’s reproductive healthcare need to ensure that young doctors understand why women need abortions, and that this is a profession to be proud of.”

Some 45.2% of those surveyed believed doctors should have the right to refuse to treat someone when doing so clashed with their personal beliefs, but 40.6% disagreed. “Once qualified as doctors, if all these respondents acted on their conscience and refused to perform certain procedures, it may become impossible for conscientious objectors to be accommodated in medicine,” said Strickland.

Backing for a doctor’s right to refuse to perform any procedure was highest among Muslim medical students, at 76.2%. Some 54.5% of Jewish students also thought doctors should have the right to refuse, as did 51.2% of Protestants and 46.3% of Catholics.

Guidance drawn up by the General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors, advises doctors to refer a patient to a colleague if they object to a certain procedure or treatment.

“However, we also make clear that doctors have an overriding duty to provide care for patients who are in need of medical treatment, whatever the cause of that medical need. It is not acceptable to opt out of treating a particular patient or group of patients because of personal beliefs or views about them, for example if they misuse drugs or alcohol,” said Dr Peter Rubin, the GMC’s chair.

The British Medical Association said that while doctors and medical students can refuse to participate in treatments they are uncomfortable with, patients must not be harmed or affected by their decision. They must also give patients enough information so they can seek treatment elsewhere within the NHS, according to a spokesman for the doctors’ union’s medical ethics committee.

The Department of Health said: “Patients’ clinical needs always come first, and practising doctors understand this. It is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief and the law does not entitle people to apply such beliefs in a way which impinges upon other people, even if they claim that their religion or belief requires them to act in this way.

“All patients have a right to a comprehensive and fair NHS. The NHS constitution, white paper and the Equality Act provide the legal framework and principles that underpin the way the NHS should provide its services and support its staff.”

Campaigner calls for a rethink of ‘restrictive’ rules

By Patrice Dougan
Saturday, 9 October 2010

Pro-choice campaigners have called for Northern Ireland’s “restrictive” abortion laws to be modernised.

Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Dr Audrey Simpson from the Family Planning Association said: “It’s time for change.”

The call comes as the first all-Ireland conference on abortion and clinical practice was held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where abortion is illegal.

The conference was marred by campaigners trying to prevent it from going ahead, and medical professionals were yesterday faced with around 140 protesters armed with placards and images of abortion as they entered the gates of the hotel.

The conference was branded “absolutely outrageous” by Precious Life director Bernie Smyth, who said organisers had an “audacity to organise an abortion conference in a country where abortion is illegal”.

“The vast majority of people here are opposed to abortion and are offended and outraged that this conference is taking place,” she said. “Unionists and nationalists alike, it’s the one thing that unites both communities.”

She said politicians had come out of a political conference taking place in the same hotel to show their support to the pro-life campaign.

The group has also lodged an official complaint with the PSNI asking them to investigate the legality of the conference.

Questioning the legality of the conference, Mrs Smyth said: “What the organisers and speakers at this conference are doing in incitement — encouraging health professionals here to commit the crimes of illegal abortion and child destruction.”

A police spokesperson confirmed officers were dealing with the complaint, and said if criminal offences are identified “appropriate action” will be taken.

But the Family Planning Association, who helped organise the event, said this was a “desperate” attempt to stop the conference taking place.

Director for the association in Northern Ireland, Mrs Simpson, said they “wouldn’t bow down to such hostile tricks”, and the event had “continued regardless”.

She said the protests had not affected the event, and the media attention provided by the pro-life groups had in fact generated “a significant amount of publicity”.

“Once again it’s bringing attention to the fact that women in Northern Ireland are no different from women in the rest of the UK,” she said. “Many women, for various reasons, are choosing to end an unplanned pregnancy and they are no different from women in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Italy and throughout Europe.

She said for the almost 100 women who have legal abortions in Northern Ireland every year, and the thousands who travel abroad to have the procedure carried out, the medical practitioners here must be fully capable of looking after them.

Pro-life lobby gets vocal amid heavy security

Situated right on the seafront, the Slieve Donard Hotel commands spectacular views of both the Mournes and the Irish Sea. But those sights were lost yesterday.

As mist covered the mountains, most people’s attention was on the singing, praying Protesters standing firm at the gates. The protesters carried placards and banners with slogans like “doctors of death not wanted in Ireland”, and branding medical staff who carry out abortions as “worse than the abusers of Baby P”.

Around 140 people in all came from across Northern Ireland and the Republic to object to the first all-Ireland conference on abortion and clinical |practice.

Crowds surrounded the mini-roundabout at the entrance to the Slieve Donard Hotel, where dozens of police officers were stationed. A political conference was also being held in the venue and security was high.

This was stepped up after a protester attempted to enter the abortion conference. The woman was stopped by staff when her name was not on the list of delegates and she could not identify herself.

Precious Life director Bernie Smyth denied anybody connected to the pro-life group was involved.

“That’s outrageous,” she said. “It’s not in our interest to be inside the conference, it’s in our interest to be outside. That’s a distraction from what we are doing. That’s trying to put a negative spin on a very well-represented, successful protest.”

Demonstrators, many accompanied by children or babies in prams, wore yellow smiley-face stickers, which declared “I’m pro-life”.

Others sang hymns in the direction of the hotel, while others prayed. Two brothers from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal had come from Londonderry to show their support for the pro-life movement.

Patsy and Kerry McAuley, with the Choose Life group, had travelled from Ballymena to be there. They said they were protesting against people “trying to legalise abortion and the killing of the unborn”.

“There’s been enough bloodshed in this country without the bloodshed of our innocents,” said Mrs McAuley.

Bernadette Ferreira, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus pro-life group in Derry, said people were protesting to “protect our unborn children”.

“They say they are for women,” she said of pro-abortion groups. “But the most vulnerable woman in society is the woman in the womb, and where are our rights as women if we don’t have the first basic right to be born?

“What they are planning in the name of women is hypocrisy and biased.”

But Family Planning Association director Audrey Simpson said the conference had received support from politicians throughout the day. However, most could not openly declare themselves as pro-choice because of their party’s policies, she said.

Read more:

A majority of gynaecologists in Northern Ireland do not support abortion law as it stands, a new academic survey has shown. The research, conducted at Middlesex University, involved interviews with 37 out of the 42 practising gynaecologists in Northern Ireland, and revealed that 57% support liberalising current abortion law, with many willing to carry out abortion under certain circumstances.

The data, which was published earlier this year, shows that 70% would be willing to perform terminations on grounds of foetal abnormality, while 68% agreed that abortion should be legal in cases of rape. The author of the paper, Colin Francome, said, ‘This is the second study I have carried out looking at the views of gynaecologists in Northern Ireland. This shows that the vast majority agree with the opinion that I also hold that the situation for women with an unwanted pregnancy is very unfair.’

Dr. Audrey Simpson, OBE, Director of fpa Northern Ireland, adds, ‘A woman’s right to choose cannot continue to be ignored. It’s time to stop pretending that Northern Ireland women are different from women in the rest of the UK. The simple fact is they are not. When faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy they deserve and have a right to access health care services that are freely available in the rest of the UK.’

Find out more at Abortion Review or visit the fpa website for information on their Time for Change campaign.

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