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GPs support medical abortion

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Royal College of General Practitioners, abortion rights, decriminalisation of abortion, medical regulatory frameworks, criminal justice system“It places the rights of women and girls front and centre on the issue of abortion care in the UK.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners’ UK Council has passed a motion to support the decriminalisation of abortion, saying that the procedure should be governed by medical regulatory frameworks, not the criminal justice system.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) will now work with partners across the health sector, including the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Royal College of Midwives and others, to call for the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK.

The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) criminalised abortion and threatened women with life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy.

This law is still in force today.

The 1967 Abortion Act did not replace the OAPA or decriminalise abortion; it stipulated specific circumstances where women and their doctors would not be prosecuted.

The decriminalisation of abortion would mean it would be treated like any other health issue.

On 23 October 2018, Diana Johnson MP and a cross-party coalition of MPs introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This Bill proposed to amend the law relating to abortion in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

It aimed to remove criminal liability in respect of abortion performed with the consent of the pregnant woman up to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy; to repeal sections 59 and 60 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861; to create offences of termination of a pregnancy after its twenty-fourth week and non-consensual termination of a pregnancy; to amend the law relating to conscientious objection to participation in abortion treatment; and for connected purposes.

The idea was to create a law based on women’s welfare and best medical practice.

The Royal College of General Practitioners’ decision was based on a poll of members and consultation with local Faculties.

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients and works to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

The College did not ask members about the term limits on, or the morality of, abortion.

More than 4,400 members from across the UK responded to the consultation.

They were asked whether the RCGP should have a position on the decriminalisation of abortion and what position they thought the College should take:

62 per cent said that the RCGP should support the decriminalisation of abortion;

19 per cent said that the RCGP should oppose the decriminalisation of abortion;

15 per cent said that the RCGP should have a neutral position on decriminalisation; and

4 per cent abstained.

Of the 21 College Faculties that responded to the consultation, none said that the RCGP should oppose the decriminalisation of abortion, 11 supported the motion for the RCGP to support the decriminalisation of abortion, two said that the College should be neutral on the issue, and eight abstained.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This is an incredibly sensitive topic, but it’s essential that we engage in debate and hear what our members have to say on all issues facing modern healthcare.

“It speaks to the strength of feeling of our members that we had such a good response rate to our consultation. The quality of the feedback has been hugely valuable in helping us form an official position on the decriminalisation of abortion.

“Ultimately, this is about providing non-judgemental care to our patients so that women who face the difficult decision to proceed with an abortion are not disadvantaged by the legal system.”

And Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG): “We very much welcome this important vote by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

“It places the rights of women and girls front and centre on the issue of abortion care in the UK.

“Removing the criminal sanctions associated with abortion care would be a crucial step in improving access to this essential area of women’s healthcare.”

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