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MPs to vote on plans to ditch two signature rule for abortion

By Gareth Iacobucci

MPs are set to vote on proposals to end the need for two doctors' signatures to give permission for abortion.

Lord David Steel, whose bill led to the legalisation of abortion in 1967, has proposed changes which would bring Britain into line with continental nations, by allowing ‘abortion on request'.

Since the 1967 Abortion act, the law has stated an abortion can only take place after two doctors sign to confirm it is medically necessary for the patient.

But Lord Steel said he supported the change, which he said will mean ‘not abortion on demand but abortion on request'.

The proposal will go to a Commons vote next month when MPs debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will also see MPs voting on whether the legal time limit for terminating a pregnancy should be lowered from 24 weeks.

The BMA, which has previously called for scrapping of the two doctors' signatures rule, backed the proposal.

A BMA spokesperson said: ‘The BMA is calling for a revision of the Abortion Act 1967 so that, in the first trimester women would not be required to get the signatures of two doctors before an abortion can legally proceed.

‘Health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion should retain the right to opt out of providing abortion services, but should make their views known to patients and enable them to see another doctor without delay.'

Dr Jane Wilcock, a GP in Manchester, also supported the proposal, and said patients should be seeing a social worker rather than waiting for two doctors signatures.

‘What should be happening, is it that these people are seeing a social worker. If it prevents two signatures I think it's a good idea.

‘The whole point of having the abortion act signed from a GPs point of view is to make a sure the person is mentally capable of understanding what they're doing. So it would only take one qualified health worker to know.'

But Dr Trevor Stammers, a GP in Wimbledon and lecturer in healthcare ethics at the Catholic foundation St Mary's University College, strongly criticised the proposals.

He said: ‘For most of us doctors who take the time to explore it, probably about a third of the women that we see will decide to continue with the pregnancy. That's not because we've co-erced them, it's because we've given them time to reflect.

‘There will be a third more terminations within a very short period time if the pro-abortion lobby liberalise the law still further. I think it's extremely worrying.'

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