A swirl of controversy is surrounding abortion clinics in the UK. Several undercover and investigative operations have revealed not only that one in five clinics are breaking the law, but that some were allowing for gender-selective abortions.
The Telegraph reports Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who ordered an investigation that included "unannounced raids" on the more than 250 clinics, was "shocked" but the number found in violation:
[...] more than 250 private and NHS clinics were visited and more than 50 were “not in compliance” with the law or regulations. Doctors were regularly falsifying consent forms and patients were not receiving acceptable levels of advice and counselling in many clinics, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered.
“I was appalled,” he said. “Because if it happens, it is pretty much people engaging in a culture of both ignoring the law and trying to give themselves the right to say that although Parliament may have said this, we believe in abortion on demand.”
He said it was not just a matter of enforcing the law. “There is the risk that women don’t get the appropriate level of pre-abortion support and counselling because, if your attitude is that, 'You’ve arrived for an abortion and you should have one,’ well actually many women don’t get the degree of support they should,” said Mr Lansley.
The largest problem identified, according to the Telegraph was "pre-signing" consent forms. These consent forms are required to be signed by the person who consulted with the patient and another professional who has reviewed the patient's notes:
“I completely understand the law doesn’t require the doctor to have met the woman concerned, but to pre-sign certificates when you don’t even know which woman it relates to and there hasn’t been an assessment, is completely contrary to the spirit and letter of the law.”
He added that action would be taken within days. “We’re dealing with all this quickly,” Mr Lansley said. “If there is evidence of an offence we will give it directly to the police.”
The Health Secretary said pre-signing forms “constitutes a criminal offence” and could also lead to doctors being struck off by the General Medical Council.
Perhaps even more interesting is why this investigation was ordered in the first place. The Telegraph reports its exposé earlier this year of clinics conducting sex-selective abortions -- where a woman would have been allowed an abortion simply because of the fetus' gender. Gender-selective abortions are illegal in Britain.
The Telegraph sent four women undercover to different clinics this year and had them discuss with a doctor their wish to receive an abortion because they were told the fetus was female. Watch one of these videos where the doctor admits that it is "female infanticide" and says he would comply with the patient's wish to put down a different reason on the forms:
Here's another example where the technician says "I don't ask questions. You want a termination, you want a termination":
It was after the Telegraph published these stories in February, that the country's General Medical Council began its own investigation. The Telegraph reports Lansley as saying the goal of the investigations is to determine if clinics are following the "letter and spirit of the law."
BBC reports that investigations included clinics run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes, the NHS and private firms. It also reports BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi as saying she was "appalled" the media was informed of the investigations results before the clinics themselves:
She said: "Abortion doctors provide an important service to women who are often in difficult circumstances.
"Their work is already intensely scrutinised, with clinics regularly inspected by the Care Quality Commission.
"Lansley says he is shocked and appalled by the practices he has uncovered.
"BPAS is shocked and appalled that Lansley has found it necessary to inform journalists of alleged breaches of the abortion law before he has informed those responsible for providing the services that have been investigated, and before the investigation is concluded."
The Telegraph speculates that the investigations will result in heavier regulation on the clinics than previously seen.