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Abortion part of a midwife's role - Royal College chief

Published 21/05/2016

Professor Cathy Warwick has come under fire for backing the campaign to scrap the legal abortion limit
Professor Cathy Warwick has come under fire for backing the campaign to scrap the legal abortion limit

Abortion "is part of the role" of midwives, the head of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said.

Professor Cathy Warwick sparked controversy earlier this week with the RCM's decision to support a campaign to scrap the legal time limit on abortion.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, she stood by the move and said midwives should "deal with the rough and the smooth".

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which provides abortions in the UK, recently launched a campaign for the repeal of all legal limitations on abortion in the UK.

The current law means that women can face prison if they have an abortion after 24 weeks without medical reason.

Prof Warwick said that abortions should be considered as part of the "family planning jigsaw" and that "women should have control over their own fertility".

Discussing whether there is a contradiction for midwives between delivering babies and carrying out abortions, she said: "No, because the role of the midwife is to support women in relation to their reproduction and to care for women."

She added: "Globally, abortion is part of the role of the midwife ... providing abortion services for women is about saving their lives in many instances."

Asked if there are situations in which an abortion could be seen as "wrong", she answered: "Well, I would say no."

Prof Warwick also said that RCM members were not formally consulted on the decision to support the campaign was because it fitted in with the college's existing commitment to support "choice" for women and it was "authorised" within the governance structures.

Her decision has come under fire since it was made public, with Andrew Percy, a Conservative member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, calling her role as both the chief executive of the RCM and chairwoman of the BPAS board of trustees a "conflict of interest".

A petition calling on her to retract the RCM's backing for the campaign has received more than 36,000 signatures.

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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