Prominent Catholics have condemned new guidelines that will allow midwives in Britain to take the main role in performing abortions.
For the first time, British midwives and nurses instead of doctors may “participate in the termination” under new government rules. Members of Parliament and anti-abortion campaigners condemned the new guidance when it was revealed on Saturday.
Under previous guidelines, midwives and nurses could undertake “certain actions” in helping to terminate unwanted pregnancies. But the new rules go much further and state clearly that a “nurse or midwife may administer the drugs used for medical abortions”.
The new rules for the first time say that a doctor needs only to approve and begin a termination. The bulk of the procedure can be carried out by nurses.
Catholic pro-life peer Lord Alton of Liverpool said he felt it was “particularly perverse that midwives, who do the beautiful work of helping babies into the world, will now be called upon to end the lives of children they might otherwise work to save.”
Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said the development “is a clear liberalisation of abortion law which people do not want. Moreover, I do not believe that it is what Parliament intended.”
Labour MP Jim Dobbin, co-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Pro-life Group, said the Department of health take “every opportunity to make life easier for the abortion industry”. He added: “The Abortion Act is crystal clear that a qualified doctor is the only person able to perform an abortion.”
The new guidance rules out abortions carried out on the grounds of the sex alone, but comes at a time when nearly 200,000 terminations are performed in England and Wales each year and about a fifth of pregnancies end in abortion.
The 1967 law which governs abortion says that two doctors must approve the termination and the procedure must be conducted by a doctor. In 1981, the courts gave approval for nurses to be involved, and Whitehall guidance restated the principle in 1999, according to media reports.
The move follows pressure from the Royal College of Nursing and abortion providers, who believe the law should be changed to allow nurses full control of abortion induced by drugs or some other techniques.
“This is yet another strategic undermining of the few remaining provisions of the Abortion Act,” said Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. “Again we see a noble profession, directed towards giving life, being twisted into a means of death. And as always, it’s the weakest, the voiceless and the most vulnerable who pay the cost of such callous policies that place efficiency and selfish motives above the dignity of the human person.”