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Doctors boycott British Medical Association over abortion vote

The logo for the British Medical Association (Getty images)

Doctors are boycotting the British Medical Association after it backed a campaign for “abortion up to birth”.

A number of doctors have contacted the press to express their shock at a new policy in favour of stripping criminal sanctions from British abortion law.

“Motion 50” was adopted at a meeting in Bournemouth last week by a two-thirds majority in spite of more than 1,500 doctors writing to the BMA to warn executives that it would damage the reputation of their union.

They told their trade union 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”.

Some of the doctors are now so disappointed that they are quitting their union, saying it has been “hijacked” by people pushing an “extreme” agenda.

Dr Jessica Hudson, a 29-year-old junior paediatrician who works in the neo-natal unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, quit two days after the vote.

“I thought about it a little bit then I called and emailed the BMA giving them the reason that my views are so different that I no longer felt that I was represented,” said Dr Hudson.

“As a doctor who looks after babies from 23 weeks, I am really happy that the babies we look after have a complete right to life enshrined in the UK law.

“We wouldn’t dream of withdrawing care from a baby in one of the incubators at our neo-natal unit just because parents didn’t want it.

“Just because a baby is in a womb, not an incubator, I still believe that it deserves legal protection over its rights.”

Dr Hudson added: “The BMA voted that it (abortion) should be regulated as if it was just another medical procedure but I really believe that abortion is massively different from an appendicectomy or a tonsillectomy.

“To remove the law around it really trivialises it as a procedure and I believe that the life and health of both mother and unborn baby deserve legal protection.”

Dr Matthew Knight, a hospital consultant in Watford, said he was also going to quit the BMA and “make alternative arrangements for trade union representation”.

“Whilst I do believe the BMA on the most part works tirelessly for both the interests of patients and of its members, I have been concerned for some time that its agenda has been increasingly hijacked by people with more extreme views.

“As a member, I feel that my pro-life views are ignored and I cannot in good faith remain a member of an organisation that wishes to violate the very essence of being a doctor – protecting and safeguarding the dignity of human life.

“The process of dehumanising human beings is a slippery slope that we are progressing rapidly down.”

Dr Richard Loveless, a GP from Beckington, Somerset, said he was “very disappointed” by the outcome of the vote and that he was also quitting the BMA.

“I have been a member of the BMA for over 35 years’ continuous membership,” he said.

“I will now be terminating my membership of the BMA because of the passing of the vote on Motion 50.”

Dr David Jackson of the Royal Gwent Hospital said: “I am appalled at the BMA’s decision. This is not representative of the body as a whole and certainly not representative of my views on the matter. I cannot in good conscience remain a member of this organisation. It is a betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath.

“Abortion is not like any other surgical procedure. It is not real medicine. Pregnancy is not a disease in need of treatment. This decision is entirely ideologically motivated and is in no way clinically indicated in the vast majority of cases.”

The doctors were among more than 20 who contacted the Mail on Sunday after the vote at the BMA annual representative conference.

The new policy means that a political campaign to allow abortion up to birth for any reason will now be seen to have the approval of Britain’s doctors.

Last year, the Royal College of Midwives controversially aligned itself with the campaign against the wishes of thousands of its members.

Earlier this year a Bill was introduced into Parliament by Hull Labour MP Diana Johnson to repeal criminal sanctions from existing legislation. It ran out of time when the snap general election was called.

Abortion is technically illegal in Britain unless requests meet defined criteria under the 1967 Abortion Act.

There is an upper time limit for abortions of 24 weeks gestation, for instance, except in cases of severe foetal abnormality.

Two doctors must also give signed consent to an abortion after considering if the continuation of a pregnancy might injure the mother’s mental or physical health.

The provisions of the Act have led to scarcely any prosecutions but they allow nearly 200,000 abortions each year in Britain, virtually on request.

They do not prohibit sex-selective abortions but the government has issued guidance to strongly discourage the practice.

A ComRes poll carried out in May found that only one per cent of women wanted to see the time limit for abortion extended above 24 weeks, while 70 per cent of women wanted to see the time limit reduced to 20 weeks or less.

A BMA spokesman said that the union supported “decriminalisation” up until 24 weeks and not up to birth.

“Decriminalisation would not mean deregulation,” he said. “The debate and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence.

“The BMA has established policy on these issues – such as supporting the 24-week limit – which will remain unchanged.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool has said that decriminalisation would, however, require the repeal of parts of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which would open the door to abortion on demand up to birth.