Chris Whitehouse heads the The Whitehouse Consultancy and is an Isle of Wight Councillor.
The Conservative Party has consistently held a noble position on the issue of abortion – it has recognised that this is an issue of conscience for Members of Parliament and hence is the subject of free, un-whipped votes. The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has previously indicated that he would support a reduction in the upper age limit for abortions, but has not used his position to bring that about, accepting that such change is a matter for private members, not government legislation.
Yet officials of his Department pursue a very different agenda – working in close partnership with the big private abortion providers to find ever-more liberal ways to interpret and implement the law. Last November, the Department launched a consultation on the Required Standard Operating Procedures (RSOP) which independent abortion providers must follow to keep their licences. The consultation closes next Monday. On first reading, this seems innocuous. Yet, on closer inspection, the proposed regulations would significantly liberalise the way our abortion laws are interpreted and implemented. Worse, we will be stuck with these new regulations for at least four years, after which it will be extremely difficult to roll them back.
Whilst views within the Party reflect the whole spectrum on this issue, it is simply a matter of electoral pragmatism to point out that in the run-up to the general election, picking a further fight with the great faiths (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc) would be political suicide. Yet it seems that our Ministers have sleep-walked into a major row that is about to explode as the consultation closes and they are asked to take decisions.
The scope of the proposed change is dramatic. First: the new RSOPs make clear that the criteria of the Abortion Act can actually be met without the woman ever having been seen by a doctor. Following last week’s admission from the Government that 98,000 abortions – 46 per cent of the total number of abortions in the UK for 2012 – were undertaken without the doctor ever having met the woman, this new operating procedure puts women at risk and highlights how casual we have become with infant life.
The overwhelming majority of abortions in the UK (around 98 percent) are executed on the grounds that two doctors have formed an opinion “in good faith” that there would be a greater physical or mental risk to the mother if she were to continue with the pregnancy than abort. But, how can a doctor form an opinion in good faith without meeting or speaking to the patient?
The 1966/67 debates which led to the passing of the Abortion Act make it clear that the requirement for doctors to examine the mother should be a precondition of all the other provisions of the Abortion Act. But the letter of the law itself could be clearer, so pro-abortion lobbyists and their fellow-travelers in sections of the Department of Health are exploiting this weakness to liberalise the law by the back-door. A regular demand of the pro-abortion lobby has been to amend the Abortion Act to remove the legal requirement for two doctors to see the pregnant woman. Repeatedly, this attempt has failed. Now, through these RSOPs, we are witnessing that very change, but instead of Parliament voting on it, as should be the case, the Department of Health are forcing these damaging changes through these RSOPs, which have three other main flaws.
First: the RSOPs muddy the waters over who can and cannot perform an abortion. They allow doctors to provide nurses with the drugs necessary to procure a medical termination. The Abortion Act itself gives permission only to Registered Medical Practitioners, who it has been argued, could be doctors or nurses. But previous understanding has been that only a registered doctor can perform an abortion, because other medical practitioners may not have had the required training to ensure that the woman seeking an abortion is properly cared for, or that her request meets the requirements of the law. Department of Health officials seem more interested in furthering pro-abortion ideology than in protecting women.
Second: there is no attention given in the RSOPs to the growing body of internationally renowned research on the health risks associated with abortion. As with any medical procedure, doctors should fully inform patients of the potential risks and alternatives to the procedure. This is “informed consent”. Scandalously, the informed consent requirements for abortion are as low as for an ear syringing. The well-being of women simply isn’t a priority for whoever came up with these proposals.
Third: the RSOPs reflect the pro-abortion lobby’s callous refusal to admit that children in the womb feel pain. It has long been the consensus among fetal pain experts that babies in the womb may experience pain from about 16 weeks’ gestation with one study by one of the world’s leading authorities claiming that children in the womb could experience pain even earlier.
Yet, nowhere in the regulations is there any guidance about administering fetal analgesia, so fully-formed children in the womb are not even offered the dignity of pain relief before their lives are brutally ended. Instead, the RSOPs say that pain relief is not necessary. Practitioners and Government officials are well aware that there is a substantial body of medical opinion that these children have the capacity to feel pain, but seem content to add the infliction of an agonising death to the list of crimes these victims are forced to endure.
As I say, the consultation closes next Monday, so there is very little time to respond (you can do so here). But, those who share my opposition to abortion in principle can on this occasion unite with those who want to see success at the General Election in urging Hunt to stop dead in its tracks this clandestine attempt to liberalise the law before it derails completely any chance of electoral success.