Almost 1,500 doctors and medical students are in open revolt over a move to secure the backing of the British Medical Association for a controversial campaign for abortion up to birth.
They have signed a letter to Dr Anthea Mowat, the doctors’ union representative body chairwoman, denouncing a motion for decriminalisation of abortion as “extreme” and warning her that it puts the reputation of the BMA at risk.
Writing ahead of the annual representative meeting in Bournemouth on Tuesday, the doctors warned the BMA that “if these measures were to be implemented, it would mean the introduction of abortion for any reason, to at least 28 weeks and possibly up to birth”.
“As doctors and medical students we strongly urge the British Medical Association to reject this extreme motion,” the letter said.
“We represent a variety of positions on the issue of abortion, but believe this motion is out of keeping with both our duties as responsible professionals and the expressed wishes of British women with regards to the legality and regulation of abortion.”
The letter explained that “in the last few years, polls have consistently shown that a larger proportion of women want more, not fewer restrictions on abortion”.
“A ComRes poll in May 2017 found that only one per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended above 24 weeks and only one per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended through to birth,” it said.
“The same poll found that 70 per cent of women wanted to see the abortion time limit reduced to 20 weeks or below.”
The doctors accused “a small group of campaigners with extreme views on abortion” for bringing the motion forward.
“Whilst they are entitled to hold the convictions they do we must not let them impose their agenda on the BMA and risk severely damaging our reputation as a professional body,” the letter said.
“As doctors, where required, we are responsible for the care of both women and their babies throughout pregnancy and childbirth and the current law, however imperfect, is an attempt to recognise that the life and health of both mother and baby need legal protection.
It would be unacceptable for the organisation that represents us to support the radical position … that all legal protection for babies should be removed, possibly right through to birth,” it said.
The letter concluded: “This extreme motion does not reflect the moderate and reasonable views of the majority of British women and the general public on this issue, and would severely damage the reputation of both the BMA and the medical profession.”
The signatories were drawn from a broad range of medical specialities, including Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
The motion comes amid a campaign to legalise abortion up to birth and follows a Bill for decriminalisation that was introduced into the last Parliament by Hull Labour MP Diana Johnson.
Last year, the Royal College of Midwives controversially aligned itself with the campaign against the wishes of thousands of its members.
One doctor told the Mail on Sunday that he expected many colleagues would leave the BMA if they motion was approved.
“It would be outrageous if this was passed and would lead to many doctors reviewing their position in respect to membership of the BMA,” said Dr John Campbell, Professor of General Practice at Exeter University. “I would do that and I have been a member for 35 years.”
Crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool praised the doctors for their courage in speaking out.
He said: “More than most, doctors know that abortion involves the deliberate killing of another human being. More than most, doctors understand the carnage involved in late abortion. So it does not surprise me that many are upset by the BMA motion.
“I congratulate those who have had the courage to stand for the scientific truths against those who pursue the dark ideology that babies in the womb should have no rights.”
Baroness Hollins, Professor of Psychiatry and former president of the BMA, also criticised the motion as “an inhumane provision”.
“Aborting a baby after 24 weeks – the age of medically agreed viability – is an extreme move towards involuntary euthanasia,” said Baroness Hollins.
A BMA spokesman said that abortion was “a sensitive and complex issue and one on which doctors have a range of views”, adding that both sides of the argument would be debated.