A survey released by Marie Stopes has revealed that just over half (52%) of G.P.s believe women should be able to access abortion with the agreement of one doctor (rather than the current two) until 14 weeks of pregnancy. Whilst not quite abortion on demand, as the BBC headlines it, this is an important finding. As is the fact that two-thirds wanted the current 24-week time limit reduced and 20% decribed themselves as “anti-abortion”.
The survey also found most doctors were in favour of being able to have free abortions on the NHS…The survey also found an increase in the number of GPs who did not think that they should be obliged to declare any conscientious objection to abortion to patients. Marie Stopes International said it was concerning that a significant minority of doctors could be actively blocking women from accessing abortion services.
So what do these results mean? Well that most doctors who aren’t avowedly anti-choice support a woman’s right to bodily determination and also that they believe access to abortion should be less difficult. If only one doctors signature were needed the delays in accessing abortion should be reduced and therefore a lowering of the threshold shouldn’t be significantly problematic. Except that, depending on where the marker is set, many women still don’t realise they are pregnant until the onset of morning sickess (if it occurs) or until significant absence of menstruation. Recently research has shown that the vast majority of abortions occur between 8 and 14 weeks and, even now, a 24 week abortion is considered the exception. Additionally doctors and legislators would need to think through access to late-term abortions which are currently allowed on exceptional grounds and how a low threshold would impact on those.
With the 40 year anniversary of the legalisation of abortion this year, campaign groups on all sides are motivating their forces. However Pro-Life continues, sadly, to engage in rhetoric battles which denigrate the difficult choices women make to access abortion. Their spokespeson said in the article for example claimed that Britian had “abortion on demand” (we don’t and apart from countries like Poland this makes us the exception in the EU) and that doctors were flauting the current laws (but she provides no evidence for this).
The government has been said that it has no plans to change the current law but has established the working party on abortion legislation.