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Royal College of Midwives reaffirms abortion stance amid chief's law change call

Published 16/05/2016

Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick reportedly backed a campaign to scrap the abortion time limit without consulting members
Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick reportedly backed a campaign to scrap the abortion time limit without consulting members

The Royal College of Midwives has reiterated its stance on abortion following reports that the head of the union backed a campaign to scrap the abortion time limit without consulting its members.

Royal College of Midwives (RCM) chief executive Cathy Warwick also holds a top position at a charity advocating the law change. Professor Warwick chairs the board of trustees at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), which has called for abortions to be removed from criminal law.

Under current laws, a woman can be liable to life imprisonment if she terminates her pregnancy beyond 24 weeks without medical legal authorisation.

In February the professor, in her capacity as head of the RCM, said the Bpas campaign had the union's full support as she called for the legal limit to be "relegated to history".

But a report by the Daily Mail said RCM members were not consulted on the move.

The RCM said that the position was adopted with the full knowledge of its board.

In a statement, the RCM said: " The Royal College of Midwives has been a long-standing supporter of the right of women to have choice over their fertility and over all aspects of their maternity care.

"This includes the right to choose whether or not to have a baby. We call for every woman to be given the necessary information to make an informed choice as to whether or not to continue with their pregnancy.

"The RCM recommends that abortion procedures are regulated in the same way as all other procedures relating to a woman's healthcare.

"To be clear, midwifery practice must at all times comply absolutely with the legal framework relevant to the provision of services for the termination of pregnancy.

"And we reaffirm our long-standing and consistent support for the right of any midwife to hold a position of conscientious objection.

"No midwife can be compelled to take part in carrying out an abortion, that is absolutely right and should remain the case.

"Our recent statement on abortion set out our belief that abortion should be removed from the scope of the criminal law.

"We do not believe that it is right that it is still the case that women who choose to have an abortion can be criminalised and face prison. This is a position adopted with the full knowledge and support of the RCM board, which is an elected body made up entirely of registered UK midwives.

"This position has triggered a response from a campaign website based in Spain, which is encouraging people to email the RCM. From what we can tell so far this has led to a large number of emails to be sent to us from overseas.

"The RCM is an advocate for women and we advocate for choice in all aspects of their care. This is not about being for or against abortion. It is about being for women and respecting their choices about their bodies."

Several MPs criticised Professor Warwick's decision to back the Bpas campaign, including Andrew Percy, a Conservative member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee.

He told the Daily Mail: "It is clearly a conflict of interest if she is doing the two roles. It's pretty disgusting.

"She represents midwives, many of whom will absolutely not agree with this campaign, and she should think very hard about whether or not her position is sustainable."

Under UK law, an abortion can usually only be carried out during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy as long as certain criteria are met.

The Abortion Act 1967 covers England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland. The law states that abortions must be carried out in a hospital or a specialist licensed clinic and two doctors must agree that an abortion would cause less damage to a woman's physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy.

There are special circumstances which would allow abortion after 24 weeks, such as if there is a substantial risk to the woman's life or serious foetal abnormalities.

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