For decades battles have been fought to amend the Abortion Act*.
Pro-lifers have fought to make it more restrictive, abortion providers have lobbied to make it ever more liberal.
But a new threat has now emerged, and it is a serious one that requires no change to the wording of the principal statute.
Last November, the Department of Health launched a consultation on the Required Standard Operating Procedures (RSOP) which independent abortion providers must follow to keep their licences.
On first reading, this seems innocuous. Yet, it has now emerged 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.
First: the new regulations (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% 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%) 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 1966/7 debates which led to the passing of the Abortion Act make 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.
Second: 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 protecting women.
Third: 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.
Fourth: 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.
This column challenges its readers to make heard their own voice and that of the unborn child in its silent death scream in the womb. We must put urgent political pressure on the Government. The consultation closes on the 3rd February, so there is very little time to respond (you can do so here: http://consultations.dh.gov.uk/abortion-clinics/approval-of-independent-sector-places-for-the-term/consult_view ). But, even after that deadline we can all still write directly to the current Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP (House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA), who is more amenable to the struggle for unborn rights than of his predecessors over the last 30 years. Send this article to your MP urging him/her urgently to raise the matter with Mr Hunt. The more pressure we put on the Secretary of State, the less he will be willing to concede to these ideologically driven RSOPs.
The words of Jesus in Mark 9 are unambiguous: “the man who brings harm to one of the little ones would be better off if he were thrown into the sea with a great mill-stone hung round his neck”. As Catholics, it is our call of duty to do everything we can to protect today’s “little ones” – the unborn. Please act today.
* The 1967 Abortion Act legalised abortion in the UK up to 28 weeks gestation, subsequently amended to 24 weeks.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Managing Director of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, a Trustee of The Right to Life Charitable Trust, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).
This article first appeared in The Universe.