18 May 2016, The Tablet

Thousands call for midwives to withdraw abortion support

Latest figures show that the number of abortions in England and Wales is at a five-year high

Pro-life campaigners have called on the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) to withdraw its backing for abortion to be legalised up until the day of birth.

The college, which represents almost 30,000 midwives and health workers, last week gave its “full support” to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s biggest abortion provider, in its campaign for abortion to be removed from the criminal law. But it did not consult its members.

Decriminalising abortion would see the removal of the current time limit of 24 weeks’ gestation, after which a woman may only have a termination for medical reasons.

In a statement on Monday, the RCM reaffirmed its stance on decriminalising abortion, adding that the position was adopted with “the full knowledge and support of the RCM board, an elected body made up entirely of registered UK midwives.” Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, is also chairman of the trustees of BPAS.

The Catholic Medical Association strongly condemned the proposal, adding that it was a sad indictment of British society that a group devoted to delivering babies could back an abortion campaign.

Dr Robert Hardie, the association’s former president, said: “Could there be a conflict of interest in a lady who is both chief executive and general secretary of the RCM and chair of the trustees of BPAS?”

He said the association found it inconceivable that there could be legal medical reasons under the 1967 Abortion Act for a termination to be performed beyond the current limit. “We are surprised therefore that such an action as supporting abortion throughout pregnancy could be necessary other than as a direct attempt to allow abortion totally on demand and paid for by a cash-strapped NHS,” concluded Dr Hardie.

A retired Catholic midwife, Carolyn Kerr, said she believed members of the RCM should have been consulted about the decision. “I am proud of my Catholic faith, and saddened by the number of terminations that take place in this country,” she said. Figures released this week by the Department of Health showed the number of abortions carried out in England and Wales last year was the highest for five years.

An online petition calling on the RCM to reconsider its position received 11,000 signatures within 48 hours. More than 200 midwives have signed an open letter calling on the RCM board to retract its position.

An RCM spokesperson said: “The RCM is not for or against abortion. It is for women, and respecting their choices about their bodies. NHS policy is explicit that high-quality maternity services include respecting women’s right to make reproductive choices. The RCM’s stance on decriminalisation of abortion is compatible with this.”

Catholic politicians, including the Labour MP Rob Flello and the crossbench peer Lord (David) Alton, condemned the RCM’s stance. The news came as thousands of pro-life campaigners took part in the annual March for Life in Birmingham on Saturday.

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