Abortion is legal by choice?

First published by Christian Concern on its website, on October 13th, 2020.

A key finding from our mystery client survey is that both BPAS and Marie Stopes UK operate as if abortion is legal by choice in Great Britain. A woman simply has to ask for one and can provide any reason for choosing her termination of pregnancy.

During our investigation, BPAS told our volunteer ‘Saskia’ (not her real name): “Any reason [for an abortion] other than the sex of the baby is a valid reason to us, but [we need] to attach it to a legal reason.”

Similarly, Marie Stopes UK said: “It is indeed legal to request an abortion by choice, it certainly is. But we need to categorise it as per the Abortion Act.”

As our mystery client survey progressed, we realised that it didn’t matter what reason our volunteers gave for wanting an abortion, that in each case this was positioned by the abortion provider as being an emotional issue and thus the abortion could be granted under Ground C mental health.

Each of our volunteers were asked to give a reason she was seeking a termination of pregnancy. The call recordings reveal that regardless of the reason given, the service provider would either comment on this being an emotional reason or say nothing, moving on with the consultation and providing the abortion service.

The reasons given by our volunteers could all be categorised as choice, but in each case, these were noted by the abortion providers as valid emotional reasons.

  • Autonomy – it’s my body.
  • Career – I’ve just started a new job.
  • Economic – I can’t afford it.
  • Education – I need to finish my studies.
  • Family complete – we already have three children, that’s enough.
  • Relationship – he’s just not the right partner for me.
  • Timing – it’s just not convenient right now.
  • Unplanned – I didn’t intend this, and I don’t want to be pregnant.

In creating the persona for Saskia, we wanted to push the boundaries a bit more to explore just how far abortion providers would bend the mental health clause of Ground C. Saskia presents as a pregnant woman with a gestational age of seven weeks one day. Her reason for choosing an abortion is that she doesn’t want to be pregnant during an upcoming beach holiday. Both BPAS and Marie Stopes UK accept this as a valid reason and engage with Saskia in a longer discussion about abortion by choice being legal.

The service provider at BPAS told her that “any reason other than the sex of the baby is a valid reason to us, but we need to attach it to a legal reason such as, emotionally it’s not the right time for you.” Her abortion was justified by the BPAS service provider as meeting a legal reason of ‘emotionally it’s not the right time’.

When Saskia provided the same reason for wanting an abortion to Marie Stopes UK, the service provider suggested that this needs to be recorded as “emotionally unable to continue with the pregnancy due to [it] not being the right time currently.” This provider goes on to explain to Saskia that under the Abortion Act in Great Britain, Marie Stopes can offer an abortion for emotional, mental, or physical reasons: “It is indeed legal to request an abortion by choice, it certainly is. But we need to categorise it as per the Abortion Act, so that’s the reasoning behind it.”

It should be noted that it is not legal to request an abortion by choice in Great Britain.

In its report ‘Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2019’, the Department of Health and Social Care states the following:

“Under the Abortion Act 1967, a pregnancy may be lawfully terminated by a registered medical practitioner in approved premises, if two medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the abortion is justified under one or more of grounds A to G.”

Ground C is defined as follows:

“Ground C: That 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, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.”

In 2019, 98% of abortions (202,975) were justified using ground C, and 99.9% of these (202,000) were reported as being performed because of a risk to the woman’s mental health.

It seems that these independent sector abortion service providers are operating as if abortion is legal in Great Britain on demand by the woman, as a matter of her choice. Legal certification is simply a tick-box exercise for 98% of all abortions performed in this country, rather than it being the proper means of governing legal access to a contested healthcare service.

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