Intending “to allow abortion only in a limited set of circumstances”?

Yesterday, I received a commentary entitled “David Cameron presides over largest liberalisation of abortion  practice since 1967 Act” and while I am an educational pro-lifer to the core it confirmed again for me that the law is also a teacher and some legislators will interpret the law in ways not intended.  The UK Abortion Act of 1967 was to all intents and purposes a gestational law (28wks) and was supported by many fine pro-lifers and groups, believing sincerely that it was better to try and save some babies when, in their estimation, the climate was not ready for an all out abortion ban.

Let’s take a look at the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act;

The Grounds for abortion

“(1)Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith—

[F1(a)that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b)that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c)that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or

(d)that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.]”

Definition of Handicap

Neither the Act or the courts have provided legal guidance on the degree of serious handicap which is sufficient to invoke Section 1(d), leaving the interpretation to the opinion formed in good faith  of two doctors

2.3 Classification and Reporting of Abortions

The following are the “non-emergency” grounds for abortion

A – the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.

B – the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

C – the pregnancy has NOT exceeded the 24 week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

–  the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, or injury to the physical or mental health of any existing child(ren) of the family of the pregnant woman.

– there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

Emergency abortions classifies the abortion as immediately necessary on one of two grounds;

F – to save the life of the pregnant woman

G – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

“Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 made changes to The Abortion Act of 1967. The 28 week limit had originally applied for all grounds but the amendments introduced a time limit of 24 weeks for grounds C and D and removed the time limits on grounds A,B,E. “The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 also confirmed that when a woman had a multiple pregnancy it was legal for a doctor to terminate the life of one or more foetuses while leaving others alive.

Over 98% of the 203,379 abortions carried out in 2012 are performed under grounds C and D – In 1967 when the law was passed there were 27,200 abortions rising to 24,178 in 1968 and rising every year since then to the current almost 650% increase!

The original law was intended to only allow abortion in certain circumstance before 28 weeks for health reasons, requiring a woman to be seen by two doctors, who verified that she fulfilled requirements for grounds ABCDor E, the abortion was to be procured in a state registered facility by a doctor. Emergency abortions (FG) were left to the “good faith”interpretation of the doctors.

The original gestational limit was 28 weeks for all grounds and was amended in 1990 with the gestational limit being erased for ABEFG and with C and D required to be procured 24 weeks or before. This amendment also sanctioned the abortion of one or more of the fetal children if the pregnancy was a multiple one!

Now back to the article which highlighted the fact that health protection was the driving force behind the 1967 law and which demanded that two doctors be required to see the woman and provide their opinion – obliging them to actually see her. In July 2012 a new “interim abortion procedures” guideline was sent to abortion providers dispensing with the two doctor requirement. Soon after the junior health minister said that there really was no reason for two doctors to see the woman, one could be adequate. In 2013, going even further, somehow it was “good practice ” but not really necessary for either doctor to see the woman prior to the abortion. All this reinterpretation while the law’s requirements remained exactly the same; with no debate in parliament and the guidelines placed on the government website a full six months after the abortion providers had received them. So now the abortion process could be carried out by nurses or members of a multiple disciplinary team which might include non medical personnel as long as the doctors signed the form. In the words of the author who notes,

“It is perhaps no surprise that we are now seeing such widespread abuse of the Abortion Act in the form of sex selective abortions, illegal pre-signing of forms and over 185,000 abortions a year authorised on spurious mental health grounds. When cabinet ministers, together with civil servants, are allowed to rewrite laws without reference to proper democratic procedures this is exactly what we should expect.

 Things had arguably slipped enough with unregulated doctors at the helm. But now that doctors are effectively side-lined we can expect very quickly to see the slide to a publicly funded, nurse-led, private abortion service where ‘willing providers’ like BPAS and MSI cut costs and fight for their market share.

And this is exactly what we are seeing. Private abortion providers furnished with tax payers’ money have already grown their market share to 60% of all abortions. The revised procedures are also gunning for nurses to perform abortion procedures and for the second stage of medical (drug induced) abortions to be carried out at home, two further ‘reinterpretations’ of the Act.”

What can we learn here in Canada from the UK experience? They began in good faith in 1967 to support gestational legislation which they truly believed would “limit the harm of abortion”. In a presentation made to Alliance for Life groups in Guelph several years ago John Smeaton, executive director of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children told me that they absolutely believed that a gestational approach to the law was the best way and he remarked that it had been a mistake and he and SPUC had spent the last 40 years fighting against the results of that decision.

I asked John recently to tell me again what he believes and the following is a small part of his reply

For those who find it hard to resist the temptation to support restrictive, intrinsically evil, legislation, I can tell you that from our experience in Britain and Ireland, that SPUC and the pro-life movement have made far more progress since the Society has sought to adopt an ethically correct approach to legislation.

 Pro-lifers must never abandon particular categories of babies – the disabled, the very young, those of particular ethnic backgrounds etc – in order to save others.  When we do that, our actions are objectively wrong/evil,  they undermine the whole of our pro-life work and witness, and pro-life political progress becomes an ever-more distant goal.”

In short our intentions may begin with limiting abortion to a certain time period and set of specific circumstances as SPUC did in the UK 1967 Abortion Act. However once the law is in force some legislators will do their will, dispensing with the limit, introducing guidelines with no formal parliamentary debate, a kind of reading in how they wish the law to be interpreted as has happened in the UK and we have already seen in other issues here in Canada.  The abortion industry is waiting for further opportunities to get rich on the backs of suffering pregnant women. We know that abortion is not medically indicated for any illness, injury, disease or threat to life and child does not have to be intentionally killed by abortion to assist the mother in even the gravest of circumstances.

The fruits of the UK’s 1967 gestational abortion law

  • Re-interpretation of the law

Wide spread abuse

Illegal pre-signing of abortion forms

Nurse led publicly funded abortion provision

Abortions  authorized on spurious grounds

Possibility of non – medical personnel performing abortions

Sex selection abortion affecting UK girl/boy birth ratios

Women’s health at further risk

Pregnancy reduction by abortion

Any slight disability the child has could be considered a ground for abortion

A 650% increase in abortions since 1967

Need I say more?