Trawling for change on abortion

Yvonne Roberts says one area where GPs’ workload could be
lightened is that of approving abortions.

For the eighty women from the Irish Republic who had hoped to
have abortions on the converted fishing trawler, Aurora, anchored
12 miles off Dublin in international waters, it is particularly
tragic that the project has been holed on the rocks of bureaucracy.
Dr Rebecca Gomperts, founder of the Women on Waves project, and
head of the team who planned to carry out the terminations, raised
expectations without doing her homework before setting sail.It
transpires she has yet to acquire a Dutch abortion licence. Still,
the boat’s arrival highlights once again the hypocrisy and crass
unfairness that rules the provision of abortion in Ireland and in
parts of the UK.As the Aurora sailed into Dublin harbour last week
so the Northern Ireland Family Planning Association (fpaNI) in
Belfast was winning the right to a full judicial review of medical
practices relating to abortion services. While abortion is banned
in the Republic, in the north, who qualifies for an NHS abortion is
left in the hands of the medical profession. fpaNI hopes the
judicial review will result in clear guidelines permitting all
women to have equal rights to abortion provision.In 1999, 70 women
had abortions in Northern Ireland while another 1,500 travelled to
England, paying between £450 and £900 for travel and
medical expenses. Almost 6,000 travel annually from the Irish
Republic. Once they arrive in England, under the terms of the
Abortion Act 1967, they require the approval of two doctors before
a termination can be conducted up to the 24th week of
pregnancy.Legalised abortion ought to be available in both north
and south Ð but it is also time to look again at the casting
of the 1967 act. A survey conducted by family planning organisation
Marie Stopes International two years ago revealed that 60 per cent
of GPs believe that the law should be changed to allow women easier
abortions within the first three months of pregnancy by removing
the need for a doctor’s approval.But should doctors play a role
even later in pregnancy? Abortion ‘on demand’ would not mean, as
some anti-abortion campaigners insist, that all women would
immediately resort to terminations as their preferred form of
contraception. It is equally ridiculous to argue, as do some in the
pro-choice lobby, that abortion is always a decision that is taken
with much grief and anguish. Two out of three women have had an
abortion, some have had more than one. Reaction to a termination
varies hugely not only between women but also within one woman’s
lifetime.A religiously inclined single 20-something no doubt would
feel very differently about a termination than, say, a humanist
40-year-old mother of two. Some women will treat abortion lightly,
others will be plagued by guilt. The approval of two doctors and an
obligatory session of counselling have little influence one way or
the other on that range of response. Instead, it is a charade which
infantilises women.As Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory
Service says, women do not request an abortion because they are
ignorant of advances in foetal development but because, for a
variety of reasons, they find their pregnancy intolerable. So why
should a GP act as judge?

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