Abortion doctors express concern over legal requirements

Abortion doctors feel they provide a vital and valued service – but that legal requirements set out in the 1967 Abortion Act are prohibiting the provision of the best possible medical care for the women they see.

That was one of the key findings of a new study (published 13 March) by researchers at the University into the values and professional identity of doctors who provide abortion services.

The research involved detailed interviews with 14 doctors who have spent at least a decade providing abortions. Most are current, or recently retired, consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology or sexual and reproductive health.

Almost all doctors interviewed strongly criticised the legal requirement for ‘two-doctors signatures’ to authorise each abortion as being at odds with the doctor-patient relationship and causing obstacles to access.

Doctors were also concerned that the Abortion Act, which is 50 years old this year, is restricting their ability to provide abortion procedures in the way they saw as best clinically. In particular, doctors raised concerns about the provision of medications used for Early Medical Abortions.

Led by Dr Ellie Lee, Director of the University’s Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, the researchers sought to establish what the doctors felt about their work within a context of a debate that very often centres on issues of unethical abortion practice, a claimed lack of care for patients and scant regard for the law.

The study also found that there is a ‘strong and clear sense’ among doctors providing abortion services that what they do matters ‘and that most of all it matters to women’, but doctors expressed frustration and anger over the way their work is often perceived by the public, other medical professionals, and policy makers.

The study, entitled Doctors who provide abortion: their values and professional identity, was carried out by Dr Lee and Dr Jan Macvarish, of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, and Professor Sally Sheldon, of Kent Law School.