Abortion clinic guidance emphasises illegal gender grounds

Woman with her head in her hands Image copyright SPL
Image caption Abortions can be provided if doctors decide there is a risk to a woman's mental or physical health

New guidance issued for abortion clinics in England makes clear that terminating a pregnancy on the grounds of gender alone is illegal.

It also states "pre-signing" abortion certificates without considering a woman's individual case is illegal.

The Department of Health guidance is being published after concerns over both issues were raised.

It will now assess abortion providers to ensure they are abiding by the updated rules.

The 113 independent clinics providing abortions for the NHS must do so in order to be re-approved to provide the service by the Health Secretary.

Officials say they do not expect to find any major problems.

Good practice

Concerns over sex selection were raised after secret filming by the Daily Telegraph appeared to show two doctors agreeing terminations of female foetuses could go ahead.

However no charges were brought - and the Crown Prosecution Service said it was satisfied there was no intention to proceed with a termination.

A subsequent investigation into the work of abortion clinics found 14 were pre-signing certificates.

The law says two doctors have to certify an abortion under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.

But pre-signing suggests the second doctor has not considered that woman's individual case.

Under the updated guidance, doctors are reminded that pre-signing forms is not allowed and both doctors have a legal duty to certify abortions "in good faith".

The updated guidance restates the rules governing abortions. It says:

  • abortion on the grounds of gender alone is not lawful
  • two doctor need to certify that an abortion is permitted under the criteria in the 1967 Abortion Act and be prepared to justify their decision
  • it is good practice for at least one of the doctors to have seen the pregnant woman
  • pre-signing of certificates is "not compliant" with the Act

Updated annual birth ratio statistics for England and Wales for 2008-2012 have also been published by the department.

This data is broken down by the mother's country of birth and shows no evidence of sex selection occurring in the UK.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service which is a major provider of abortions for the NHS, said it abided by the guidance.

But she added: "There is no clinical need for two doctors to certify a woman's reasons for abortion, in addition to obtaining her consent - it simply causes delays."

Ann Scanlan, of the pro-life charity Life, said the organisation welcomed the re-emphasis on sex selection and pre-signing being against the law.

But Ms Scanlan said she was "disappointed but not surprised" that the guidance potentially allowed for neither of the two doctors certifying an abortion to actually see the woman concerned.

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