Philippa Taylor

Should doctors be involved in abortion decisions?

Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at CMF. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.



‘Doctor knows best.’ Those who are adamantly ‘pro-choice’ and fighting for abortion to be freely available on request, will disagree with this  aphorism, because for years abortion campaigners have fought to remove the need for a doctor to sign abortion notification forms. In their view, women should not have to get a doctor to sign.  After all, they claim, it’s a woman’s choice not a doctor’s choice.

I guess abortion campaigners thought they had most women on their side. Indeed, some doctors presumably thought the same, given the apparently widespread practice of illegal pre-signing abortion forms by doctors who had not even set eyes on the woman (let alone asked about her health, well-being and reason for the abortion).

Yet abortion campaigners are wrong about what women want. The truth is, most women actually think that a doctor does need to see the woman, in person. Recent polling found that women overwhelmingly oppose under-the-radar moves by the Department of Health to allow doctors to approve abortions without seeing their patients face-to-face. We are not talking a small majority in favour, but 92%. That seems like a pretty clear message from women.

Why do women still think, 46 years after the Abortion Act was passed, that a doctor should be involved in abortion decisions?

Presumably, most understand that having an abortion is not like having a tooth pulled. The polling highlighted widespread fears that women’s health could be put at risk if the requirement to see a doctor is watered down. Induced abortion is an invasive medical procedure with known contraindications and complications. Only a registered doctor will have the required training to ensure that a woman onhealthy zovirax seeking an abortion is fully informed of the medical risks of the procedure, is properly cared for and that her request meets the requirements of the law.

It does seem pretty obvious that it is hard for a doctor both to form, and subsequently defend, an opinion on a woman’s need for an abortion, and her health, if he/she has never even met her. It is also not beyond the realms of possibility that a doctor could be criminally liable if he/she cannot later prove that their opinion was formed in ‘good faith’.

So if pro-abortion groups BPAS and Marie Stopes International have so badly misunderstood both women and the requirements of the law, why are they so closely involved in drawing up new guidelines to ‘interpret’ the Abortion Act with the Department of Health, as the Minister for Health admitted recently in a Parliamentary answer? This internal, private discussion within the DH reinforces our suspicions that abortion guidance is steadily being liberalised, starting with removing the requirement for one or both doctors to see a woman before signing an abortion notification form but culminating in making it a nurse-led private clinic service, paid for by the tax-payer funded NHS, as so clearly set out by Peter Saunders here.

The abortion industry should not be overseeing its own regulation and it does not speak for the majority of women. The Department of Health should be applying the law as it is, and listening to what women actually want.

(A version of this blog first appeared on the Conservative Woman website in March 2014)

Posted by Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy



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