Philippa Taylor

At least 67 doctors have clearly broken the abortion law but not one has been prosecuted

Philippa Taylor was Head of Public Policy at CMF until September 2019 and now works with CARE. 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.

gmclogoThe General Medical Council has admitted in a Freedom of Information release that 67 doctors are known to have illegally pre-signed abortion forms and yet not one has been referred to a public hearing by a Fitness to Practise Panel, not one has been referred to the police and not one has been struck off the medical register.

Allegations have been made against 67 doctors, but all cases have been closed with no action against the doctor’s registration, following investigations into pre-signing at abortion clinics by the watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, in 2012.

Pre-signing is where a doctor signs an abortion referral form without having seen or assessed the patient, before he/she can possibly know any thing about the pregnant woman, her situation, her physical or mental health, her reasons for having an abortion and whether these fit the requirements of the law in the UK.

It is only through an FOI request that the GMC has had to admit just how many doctors have been involved in this illegal activity.  During the course of its investigations its inspectors found piles of pre-signed forms at some clinics and at least one clinic was still using forms signed by a doctor who had left four years before!

It is not clear yet how many forms were signed by each doctor (one, or hundreds?), under what grounds, how many were signed by doctors no longer at the clinic, if the doctors were even still alive and how far in advance the pre-signing took place.

Pre-signing abortion referral forms is not just a disregard for the law, it is a clear breach of the law.

But, most helpfully, both the House of Lords Health Minister Earl Howe and Public Health Minster, Jane Ellison MP in recent debates have unequivocally confirmed this practice is illegal, and indeed both have even said what should be done about it:

‘…forms being pre-signed is a clear breach of the law and if it is found to be happening, a prosecution should be brought.’ (Earl Howe, 3 April 2014)

 ‘If a CQC inspection identifies instances of non-compliance with the HSCA and Regulations then appropriate regulatory action will be taken….An allegation of an illegal abortion should be reported to the police.” (Jane Ellison MP, 13 March 2014)

All allegations of abortions failing to comply with the Act are taken very seriously. Any allegation of an illegal abortion should be reported to the police, who will, if appropriate, conduct a criminal investigation.’ (Jane Ellison MP, 25 November 2013).

Clear statements such as this put the ball squarely back into the court of the GMC. I look forward to hearing how both Ministers plan to put the pressure on the GMC to deal with these 67 doctors under the law.

Perhaps they might consider prosecuting the doctors under the Perjury Act 1911 for wilfully and knowingly making false statements on statutory documents?  Or perhaps under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929 for failing to carry out their duties ‘in good faith’?

Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act requires that two doctors form in good faith the opinion that specific grounds for an abortion are met. Without knowing anything about the case of the patient, it is impossible to form an opinion ‘in good faith’.

Even before this latest exposure of 67 individual doctors, MPs were questioning how fourteen abortion clinics could (legally) have stacks of pre-signed forms ready to go in 2012. For example, Dr Sarah Woolaston MP, said in Oct 2013:

“…I think that all right-thinking medical professionals, on viewing this form, would reject pre-signing it, and would find it completely abhorrent that someone could pre-sign it and allow an unnamed, undated form to be photocopied. That point is very important. We also saw the scale of this; it was happening at 14 locations, so it was not an isolated event.”

Those who are pro-abortion do not like the fact that a woman must have two doctors sign an abortion referral form and I’m sure would love to have the requirement removed. But the Abortion Act was passed by Parliament and is the law of the land, and so it must be upheld.

Doctors are not above the law and the GMC, as their regulator, should not be protecting those who, from all accounts, have committed crimes. The police must fully investigate these cases and present their evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service. I trust that Health Ministers will ensure that they do nothing less.

Posted by Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy



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