I’ll hold back on making a detailed commentary on the latest development in the Tory Party’s ongoing war an abortion rights, but I cannot let this empty-headed comment from Andrew Lansley pass without comment.
“The rules in the Abortion Act are there for a reason – to ensure there are safeguards for women before an abortion can be carried out. To protect women, the right checks and balances must be in place.”
Lansley is referring specifically to the rule that two doctors are required to sign off a request for an abortion, which is the only medical procedure in which the law requires a second medical opinion before the procedure takes place.
As with other elements of the 1967 Abortion Act, the idea that this requirement has anything at all to do with provided ‘safeguards’ for women is complete crock of shit – a medico-legal fiction that was deemed necessary and expedient at the time that the-then Abortion Bill was making its way through Parliament in order to secure sufficient support to ensure that it passed into law but one’s whose actual origins had nothing whatsoever to do with concerns for the safety and well-being of women seeking a termination.
For the truth behind the origins of the ‘two doctor rule’ we need to go all the way back the case of Dr Aleck Bourne, a gynacologist who, in 1938, performed an illegal abortion on a 14 year girl who had become pregnant after being raped and sexually assaulted by a group of five officers from the Royal Horse Guards. The termination took place at St Mary’s Hospital, London, after the girl had approached doctors at St Thomas’s Hospital only to be turned away on the grounds that she might be carrying a future Prime Minister*.
*It appears that the ‘You’ve killed Beethoven’ fallacy has been around for rather longer that I’d previously imagined.
Bourne was tried at the Old Bailey in July 1938 and was acquitted on a charge of procuring an abortion after successfully defending his actions on the grounds that S58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 permitted a defence of justification where an abortion was undertaken before 28 weeks gestation in circumstances in which the woman’s physical or mental health was in danger.
The Bourne judgement set an important legal precedent which allows doctors to perform abortions in limited circumstances however the risk of prosecution remained a very real threat if it could be argued that doctor had been too lax in their interpretation of the threat that the continuation of a pregnancy posed to a pregnant woman when they performed an abortion, prompting doctors to adopt the practice of obtaining a second opinion as defence against this threat.
The ‘two doctor rule’ was nothing more than a means of covering a doctor’s arse if they did perform an abortion and had nothing whatsoever to do with providing any kind of ‘safeguards’ to women.
Things have, of course, changed considerable the 74 years since the Bourne judgement, and the 45 years since the Abortion Act became law, such that its long past time that the two doctor rule was dispensed with as an unnecessary anachronism.
If, as is being alleged, some doctors have been pre-signing their ‘second signature’ on abortion consent forms it only because they recognise the ‘two doctor rule’ for what it is, an archaic medico-legal fiction which serves no useful purpose, a fact that appears to be entirely lost on Andrew Lansley.
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