The leaders of Britain’s pregnancy doctors have voted to support abortion on demand, despite a revolt from members.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists tonight formally demanded the full decriminalisation of terminations at any stage in a pregnancy.
The influential body will now lobby Government for a change in the law, aping the stance of Britain’s doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, which voted for decriminalisation in June.
The decision was made by the RCOG’s senior council behind closed doors, rather than in a ballot of its 6,000 members.
The Royal College is not advocating a change to the current 24-week cut-off period for abortions, however it now wants this restriction governed by professional regulations, rather than the criminal law.
It means doctors performing terminations later in a pregnancy would face no criminal sanctions.
The current legal requirement for two doctors to sign off an abortion “on medical grounds”, for example on the basis that going through with a pregnancy might harm a woman psychologically, should be scrapped, according to the RCOG.
The vote was last night criticised by pro-life campaigners, who accused the Royal College of “betraying its members, women and their babies, and the medical profession”.
It took place despite a letter signed by more than 650 doctors objecting to president Professor Lesley Regan’s “extreme stance” on abortion and their lack of participation in the decision.
Professor Regan insisted that decriminalisation did “not mean deregulation”.
“I am pleased that the Council of our College has voted in support of removing criminal sanctions associated with abortion,” she said.
“I strongly believe that the College has a responsibility to protect women’s health by ensuring access to this key healthcare service.”
According to government statistics, there were 190,406 abortions carried out in England and Wales last year, slightly lower than the five-year high in 2015.
Critics of a change in the law have said it could open the floodgates to sex-selective terminations as well as putting women in abusive relationships at risk of coercion to end pregnancies.
Dr Anthony McCarthy, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “By supporting a campaign to trivialise abortion, i.e. a lethal attack upon an unborn child, the leadership [RCOG] has betrayed the Hippocratic principles and opened the door to a laissez-faire and in effect deregulated abortion industry.”
The RCOP has asked for feedback from its members on the subject, but their responses were not binding on the council members who voted.
A spokesman for the Royal College said 45 members of the council had taken part, but would not reveal the split, saying only the council voted “strongly in favour”.