British Medical Association Votes to Decriminalise Abortion After 24 Weeks

Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty

The British Medical Association (BMA), the professional association and trade union for doctors and medical students in the UK, has voted to decriminalise abortion after the current legal limit of 24 weeks.

Over 500 delegates debated the motion, presented by Hackney GP Coral Jones, at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth.

“We must respect women and have trust in women to make decisions for themselves and their families,” a triumphant Jones declared.

The full text of the motion explains that decriminalisation “should only apply up to viability” – defined as 28 weeks by the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929.

This would still mean a significant increase on the current 24-week limit, allowing abortion into the seventh month of pregnancy.

Even the 24-week limit has become controversial in recent years. There are hundreds of abortions after 23 weeks annually in Britain – and many doctors will refuse to save babies born short of the official abortion limit – but medical advances are helping children to survive as early 22 weeks now.

In October 2014 Dr Martin Ward Platt, consultant neonatologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said the survival rate for babies born at 23 weeks was as high as 60 per cent in his hospital.

The BMA’s decision follows the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) signing up to a campaign led by BPAS – the country’s largest abortion provider – to decriminalise terminations all the way up to birth.

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick, who also chairs BPAS, declared that “abortion is part of the role of the midwife”.

But the pro-abortion stance of the trade union elites has not proven universally popular with rank and file medical professionals.

Around 1,200 doctors and medical students signed an open letter opposing the BMA’s “extreme motion”, which they characterised as being “out of keeping with both our duties as responsible professionals” and not in line with the views of ordinary women.

“A ComRes poll in May 2017 found that only 1 per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended above 24 weeks and only 1 per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended through to birth,” they pointed out.

“The same poll found that 70% of women wanted to see the abortion time limit reduced to 20 weeks or below. The poll also found that 91% of women favour a total and explicit ban on sex-selective abortion … Clearly, women want the law to be stricter on the legality and regulation of abortion, not more lax.”

Opposition to the RCM’s backing for abortion up to birth, with members saying it would be “extremely distressing for midwives to care for women and their unborn children up to eight months into a pregnancy, only to be made to cooperate in those children’s termination.”

Responding to the latest developments, Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) spokesman Dr Anthony McCarthy said the BMA had “betrayed all who take seriously healthcare for pregnant women in favour of an extremist agenda in line with the abortion industry’s laissez-faire ‘up to birth’ attitude to ending the lives of unborn children.”

He added that the decision had been taken “Against overwhelming public opinion and against those who support women by refusing to trivialise abortion” in support of an agenda “that has nothing to do with good medicine and everything to do with ideology.”

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery


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