The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

Abortion: Health professionals mustn't believe they know better than the law

The Daily Telegraph this morning reports on its lengthy investigation into private abortion clinics in the UK with a staunch warning for health professionals who it claims believe they are above the law.

The report claims that in some cases health professionals have flouted the law by offering abortion on the basis of gender, which is illegal.

The law on abortion is contained in the Abortion Act 1967. This permits a lawful termination of pregnancy within one of a handful of highly specific circumstances.

These include when the physical or mental health of the mother are at risk, that there is a risk to any existing children in the family, or that there is a risk that the unborn child may suffer from a serious handicap.

The grounds for an abortion must then be independently approved by two doctors in good faith.

The undercover investigation into abortion clinics reported last week. In the storm that has ensued, the head of the Care Quality Commission, the body which oversees clinical practice in the UK, has resigned.

Although this was largely on account of scandals in other parts of healthcare there can be no doubt that the pending storm in light of the Telegraph investigation was an influence on the timing of the announcement.

The Telegraph investigation found that NHS doctors working in an upmarket private abortion clinic in Manchester were offering abortions to women purely on the basis of the gender of the child.

When asked if there would be a problem with this, the doctor, Prabha Sivaraman replied: "Oh no... I don't ask questions, if you want a termination you want a termination."

The doctor concerned then went on to authorise the abortion on the basis of 'social reasons'.

The investigation has created concern because offering abortions for these reasons is illegal under UK law. There has been a suspicion for some time that gender-only abortions were available at private clinics in the UK, but this was unproven until last week.

It is thought that this is the reason why some NHS clinics have stopped offering prospective parents the chance to know the gender of their child. Baby girls are thought to be most at risk from this malpractice as parents seek to have a boy.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Telegraph)

What is the law on abortion? (FindLaw)

Find solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)