The actual practice of abortion clinics is far more permissive than politicians will admit

The Daily Mail has carried out a successful sting on Marie Stopes International (MSI), one of the largest abortion providers in the country. A reporter posed as a woman wanting an abortion whilst calling up one of MSI’s call centres. The investigation claimed that the call centre worker was able to arrange an abortion for her without any direct doctor involvement.

The Mail concluded that MSI doctors “approve thousands of abortions without meeting women”, and that “some consultation discussions can last just 22 seconds”. By contrast, 92% of UK women believe that a woman presenting for abortion should always be seen by a qualified doctor.

The sting comes in light of the findings of Care Quality Commission (CQC) Inspectors last year that MSI gynaecologists, when certifying the legal grounds for an abortion, “had not usually seen the patient prior to a termination”, instead relying “on the healthcare assistance or nurse’s summary of the facts”. Also revealed was the ‘bulk signing’ of abortion-authorising ‘HSA1’ forms, with one doctor reportedly signing twenty-six forms in two minutes.

The Mail article included testimony from a former abortionist at MSI who reported an atmosphere of “bullying and pressure” in which relentless pressure to perform terminations as quickly as possible led to cost-cutting and too little time to provide proper information and care. His comments characterise MSI as an ideological racket, more concerned with maximising the number of abortions through an industrial “conveyor belt” than with the welfare of women.

No-one familiar with abortion practice can be surprised at any of this. It’s important however, to see the wood for the trees. MSI does not operate in a vacuum: the lax ease with which abortions are obtainable is simply part-and-parcel of the prevailing permissive practice.

When the Mail reporter told the call centre worker that she wanted an abortion because she “didn’t want the baby” (a reason which, alone, is not grounds for a legal abortion), she states that this was recorded as “client is unable emotionally to continue with pregnancy”. The worker referred to this as “emotional reasons”, the assumption being that this constituted a fulfilment of the grounds in the Abortion Act 1967 when “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the… mental health of the pregnant woman”.

This isn’t an eccentricity of MSI; it is intrinsic to the organised hypocrisy of UK abortion practice. The 1967 Act was meant to be a narrow and limited law, providing exemptions from the general illegality of abortion for doctors who performed abortions in extreme circumstances. Since no definition was given nor evidence required of a “risk… of injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman” however, it became normal to count simple “emotional upset” – regardless of how mild or temporary – as justification for an abortion. This thereby became the loophole through which we have introduced abortion on demand, contrary to the original intentions of Parliament.

There is not a shred of evidence that abortion safeguards mental health. In fact, it is modestly associated with negative mental health sequelae. Yet 99% of the 200,000 abortions performed every year in Britain are on mental health grounds.

The rotten consensus on which this is based is one of convenience. It suits the political class to maintain the fiction that we have a restrictive and prudential abortion law, whilst really operating permissive abortion. Few will admit it, but the scandal the Mail describes is not particular to MSI: it is the dishonest norm of British law and medical practice.