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.

Women in Wales are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain abortions quickly in the country, forcing many to either look for new places to have the procedure done early or have a later abortion.

Wales Online reports:

With new statistics showing one in 36 16 to 19-year-olds in Wales having had a pregnancy terminated, teenagers are being forced to wait for up to a month.

And experts warn a lack of provision is forcing girls to look for services other than their local GP.

The number of abortions carried out in Wales is actually in decline.

But, with only one specialist clinic in the country – in Cardiff – many young women are having to wait until much later in their pregnancy to get an abortion.

“Girls are staying pregnant for much longer than they want to. If they go to their GP at nine or 10 weeks, the doctor has to then refer them for a consultation with the NHS, which may take another three or four weeks before an appointment is available.

“And then they won’t get the treatment immediately.”

Later terminations can sometimes increase the chance for complications, but of course, those who are against abortion think forcing teens to wait is just fine.  GP David Bailey, chairman of the Welsh GP’s Committee said things are moving just fast enough.  “I think you should have at least a week’s cooling off period between one part of the process and the next.”

The human foetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks so there is no reason to change the current abortion limit, health experts have said.

Nerve connections in the brain are not sufficiently formed to allow pain perception until after the official 24-week limit for terminations, a Government-commissioned report found.

The study, carried out by members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, also said the foetus was in a state of “continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation” even after 24 weeks.

This could mean that late abortions, which are permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to the mother’s health, may not result in foetal suffering.

The landmark findings come amid efforts by some MPs – including Prime Minister David Cameron – to lower the abortion limit. A fresh analysis of evidence for foetal pain was recommended by MPs from the Commons Science and Technology committee during the last parliament.

On the issue of pain perception, the Royal College report concluded: “It was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.”

It added: “There is increasing evidence that the foetus never experiences a state of true wakefulness in utero and is kept, by the presence of its chemical environment, in a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.”

Professor Allan Templeton, president of the Royal College and who chaired the inquiry, told a newspaper: “There’s nothing in the report that suggests any need to review the upper limit.”

from Press Association

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Abortion services to be advertised on UK television for first time

Planned screening provokes an enthusiastic welcome from advocates of women’s sexual health, and outrage from anti-abortion groups

The first commercial to offer advice on abortion services will be screened on British TV next week, campaigners said today, provoking an enthusiastic welcome from advocates of women’s sexual health, and outrage from anti-abortion groups.

The advert from Marie Stopes will be screened on Monday, offering what the organisation says will be “clear, non-judgmental information” on unplanned pregnancies and abortion services.

“Last year alone we received 350,000 calls to our 24-hour helpline,” said Dana Hovig, Marie Stopes’s chief executive. “Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of women who want and need sexual health information and advice, and access to services.” (more…)

Polish women are being told by a pro choice poster campaign to come to Britain for free NHS (British National Health Service) abortions to avoid strict laws at home. But instead of arguing to make abortion more accessable in the EU, the British press argues against the necessary abortion tourism that women are being force into.

They can take advantage of cheap flights and hotels as part of a poster campaign which features a semi-naked woman with the words ‘my choice’ written across her stomach.

The flyers, which are being distributed by pro choice campaigners in Poland, mimic the Mastercard series of ‘priceless’ adverts. The lender’s campaign features different scenarios such as a first date or trip to the World Cup with various prices alongside.

In the Polish advert, the woman has various slogans around her which translate as: ‘Plane ticket to England at special offer: 300 zloty (£70). Accommodation: 240 zloty (£56). Abortion in a public clinic: 0 zloty.

‘Relief after a procedure carried out in decent conditions – priceless.’

At the bottom of each poster – next to two red and yellow circles similar to the Mastercard logo – is written in Polish ‘For everything, you pay less than an underground abortion in Poland’.

Poland is a strictly Roman Catholic country and women are banned from having a termination unless they have been raped, the baby is likely to be severely handicapped or they are risking their lives by having the child.

Every year thousands of Polish ‘ abortion tourists’ travel to Britain where they can have the procedure for free under EU regulations. As long as they can claim the termination is an ’emergency’, they do not have to pay.

The posters are being distributed by SROM, a feminist group which wants to raise awareness of Polish women’s options.

But instead of celebrateing SROM as heros of female self-determination the issue has raised yet again the issue of so-called ‘health tourism’ in the UK – in which foreigners come to take advantage of the british state-funded health system. (more…)

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