Nearly 400 nurses are protesting against a possible move by the Royal College of Nurses to support a campaign for abortion on demand.
A total of 396 nurses have signed a letter to Janet Davies, the chief executive of the RCN, objecting to moves to possibly align the College with a campaign to support the proposed decriminalisation of abortion.
“If these measures were to be implemented, it would mean the introduction of abortion on demand, for any reason, to at least 28 weeks and possibly up to birth,” the nurses said in the letter.
“As nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and nursing students, we object to a new extreme position being forced upon members of the RCN,” the letter said.
“We represent a variety of positions on the issue of abortion, but believe that supporting so called ‘decriminalisation’ 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.”
“This move to introduce a radical abortion law is being promoted by a small group of campaigners with extreme views on abortion,” the letter continued.
“Whilst they are entitled to hold the convictions they do we must not let them impose their agenda on the RCN and risk severely damaging its reputation as a professional body.”
The rebellion comes after a survey was carried out by the RCN to find out if members would support the campaign for decriminalisation.
Determining the policy was described in the minutes of a meeting of the RCN in December as an “operational priority”.
Some 435,000 nurses nationwide have since been asked if they are in favour of criminal sanctions being removed from abortion law, with “yes” or “no” being the only recorded responses.
The results of the survey will be used to “inform” the RCN as it decides whether to back the campaign driven by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the largest private abortion provider in the UK.
A briefing paper sent out to members informs them that the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association have all put their weight behind the campaign.
Some of the nurses who objected to the RCN survey say they suspect that the exercise was being “manipulated”.
Their suspicions are likely to have been heightened by revelations about the influence within the RCN of senior members of BPAS and Marie Stopes.
They include the role of Mandy Myers, the director of operations at BPAS who, according to the Mail on Sunday, has “helped to guide RCN abortion policy for at least a decade”.
Her work has involved the co-authorship of an RCN report on abortion which was published last year.
Called “Termination of Pregnancy: An RCN Nursing Framework”, the document frequently speaks of the alleged need for the greater involvement of nurses in abortions.
It concludes by encouraging RCN members to “become more politically aware, so that as nursing practice expands and more evidence becomes available, care around termination of pregnancy could be further extended to nurses”.
Steven Fouch, a nurse from Kent who helped to draft the letter of protest, said he shared concerns over the role of hard-line abortion activists.
“There seems to be some evidence that there is a strong push supporting decriminalisation,” said Mr Fouch. “We feel that there is an agenda being pushed by a small minority.”
He added: “The real worry if decriminalisation went ahead and they effectively scrapped the 1967 Abortion Act is that the freedom of conscience clause, which is part of that Act, would be scrapped and therefore the legal protections that nurses have not to be involved in abortion would be removed. That is a real concern.”
Beverley Hanson, a nurse from Truro who signed the letter, said: “I personally think that you go into nursing to look after people and make them well and to give people the maximum of their life.
“For me to do anything that goes against life is totally wrong,” she continued. “It is against the ethics of what we should be doing as nurses.”
She said abortion was already “extremely accessible” and that anyone who wanted one within the upper time limit of 24 weeks was in practice allowed it.
“But once you have decriminalisation that opens the door for people to choose the sex of their baby,” she said. “There would be no grounds, nothing at all, to deter sex-selective abortions.
“Decriminalisation would open the floodgates for sex selections and late abortions and things like that.
“On a practical level I hope that there won’t be an increase in late-term abortions but I suspect that inevitably there will be.
“At the moment late-term abortions are usually for disabilities but if you decriminalise it up to birth you could have people insisting on abortions at 32 weeks, or 34 weeks even, simply because they have changed their minds or felt under pressure for whatever reason.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool said that it was encouraging for pro-life Parliamentarians “to see a grassroots revolt by nurses”.
“These nurses are right that their Royal College should not be using its resources to campaign for even more abortion,” he said.
“In former times nurses could have relied on their Royal College to protect and represent them. Not anymore. Ideology seems to have taken the place of conscience.”
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.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, told the Mail on Sunday that it was fanciful to suppose BPAS might swing opinion at the royal colleges.
“The fact organisations were choosing to back their campaign ‘isn’t evidence of fabulous manipulation of the royal colleges, it’s really about professionals drawing the same conclusions as us,” she said.