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Call for easier early abortions

Abortion legislation should be amended to give women easier access to early abortions, the BMA decided last week.

Delegates voted to make first trimester abortion available on the same basis of informed consent as other treatment, removing the requirement for two doctors' signatures.

But they threw out proposals – supported by the BMA medical ethics committee – which would have allowed midwives and nurses to carry out first trimester abortions. Calls to relax the rules on 'approved premises' for first trimester abortions were also rejected.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, a member of the medical ethics committee, proposed the motion in a high-profile debate, which drew a number of pro-life protesters outside the venue. 'Why on earth should women seeking termination – often distressed and anxious – be faced with irrational barriers, perceived or real?' he said. 'Early abortion is now so low-risk for complications that one of the criteria is always satisfied – that it is riskier for the physical health of the mother to continue the pregnancy than to have an abortion. What is the point of having a criterion that is always met and then requiring a second opinion after that?'

Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire, said: 'No woman has an abortion on a whim. First trimester abortions need to be more accessible for GPs and their patients.'

But Nicholas Riches, from the medical students committee, said more than 500 BMA members had signed an online petition against making early abortion more accessible. 'We must not pass such a radical motion,' he said. 'The BMA has a proud history of evidence-based medicine.'

A recent Pulse survey of more than 300 GPs found the profession was deeply divided over the issue.

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