Family Planning Group Wants Greater Abortion Access in Britain

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - A leading British sexual health charity Wednesday recommended that abortion should be made more widely available. The report drew criticism from pro-life groups.

The Family Planning Association said despite standards set by the state-run National Health Service (NHS), women are subject to widely differing treatment depending on where they live in the country.

In a report presented to a parliamentary group, the association called for a nationwide target waiting time of 72 hours from the time a woman first contacts a doctor or other health professional until an abortion is carried out.

The FPA has also pushed for greater funding for abortion, and called on the NHS to pay for a minimum of 90 percent of all abortions. Currently, the state picks up the bill for anywhere from 50 percent of abortions in one London borough to 96 percent of the procedures in the city of Coventry.

"Many women find themselves ruled out of suitable, safe methods of early abortion due to delays in the system or inadequate funding at local level," said FPA Chief Executive Anne Weyman. "Such inequalities in service provision are deplorable and unjust."

The FPA wants changes to the 1967 Abortion Act that would allow abortion on request within legal time limits. Currently, abortion in Britain is only available when two doctors agree that there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother if the pregnancy continues.

"The need for the signatures of two doctors before an abortion can go ahead should be abolished and the procedure treated like any other, where a woman makes a choice and then consents to treatment," said FPA consultant Dr. Caroline Mawer.

Pro-life groups have vigorously protested the FPA report.

"It was never the intention of Parliament that abortion should be provided on demand with no consideration whatsoever for the rights of the unborn child," Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics. "It was always intended to be a rigorous balancing act, to be permitted within specific parameters, and not an irresponsible endorsement of a woman's right to choose."

Quintavalle said that despite the intent of the law, abortion is already freely available in some places despite the restrictions of the Abortion Act.

"It is quite extraordinary to hear the FPA lament in today's report that abortion is under-funded, difficult to obtain, and subject to unfair regional bias," she said.

"If certain regional health authorities are more reluctant than others to provide it ... they are probably the only ones working within the honest remit of the law," Quintavalle said.

Quintavalle said that obtaining two doctors' signatures is a formality for most women seeking an abortion and said a battle was shaping up between pro-life and pro-abortion activists in the U.K.

"It's outrageous to suggest that abortion should be available on demand," she said. "The least we could ask for is that the regulations should be adhered to, not cast aside."

The pro-life charity Life called the report "abortionism at its most ruthless and mindless."

"The FPA is demanding ever more easy access to abortion and ever more killing," said Nuala Scarisbrick, a trustee of the group.

"They are blind to the fact that abortion is a horrible, humiliating experience for women. We want less abortion, not more. A truly civilized society would want none," she said.

The U.K. Department of Health defended its record in the face of the FPA's criticisms and said that money had been invested in abortion services and that a target of a maximum of three weeks from the first consultation until a woman receives an abortion had been set as a nationwide goal.

"Once there is clear evidence that the three week standard is being met across the country, we will revise the standard to help drive down access times further," a department spokeswoman said.

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