Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 11

Submission from the Guild of Catholic Doctors


  We in the Guild of Catholic Doctors believe that, apart from an ethical argument, which is proscribed by your committee on this occasion, the 40 years of abortion, largely "on demand", have had a number of serious ill-effects on our Society:

  1.  The effect of the loss of six million, largely healthy, young citizens from our society as a result of abortion is impossible to calculate, but it has seriously diminished our capability of looking after ourselves, without outside help, and has led, to some extent, to the large requirement for immigration which our economy now has. Amongst this huge number will have been the average incidence of geniuses and prospective leaders, and we may well have killed the very people who could have led our Society forward more successfully.

  2.  The effect on mothers having abortions has been serious, with more depression (1), suicide (2,3,13) despite less suicide after normal birth (4), future gynaecology problems (5,6,7), increased risks of "medical abortions" at home (8), and breast cancer (9,10)). Post-Abortion Syndrome is now accepted as a long-term problem (11,12).

  3.  The effects on those carrying out abortions (nurses, doctors etc) is difficult to calculate, but the notion that vulnerable life (frail elderly, disabled, and premature) is less worthy of care is increasingly apparent (Joffe Bill, & Mental Capacity Act for example). The Hippocratic Standards of the Medical Profession have been eroded.

  4.  Society wants to see less abortion; a study by Communicate Research Ltd in April-May 2006 showed that 65% of women wanted less abortion; 80% of women believe that aborting a baby at 24 weeks (the upper limit) is cruel. 95% of people want the Abortion Act to be kept under regular review. People are far better informed now than they were in 1967, and know that at 24 weeks 72% of babies can survive, and at 23 weeks nearly 50% can survive. The general public has seen the ultra-sound pictures of babies in the womb. People want a proper debate, in the country and in Parliament, not just a Private Member's Bill situation.

  5.  The "Blue form", which still has to be signed by two doctors, is woefully misused and remains unchanged after 40 years. It is not even necessary for both doctors to have seen and spoken with the mother, and one may be the surgeon who is soon to do the abortion operation. Most abortions take place under the "Ground C" section of the Act, where the "Physical or Mental Health" of the mother is said to be at risk, and proper data on this is not available, but it appears that less than half a percent of these are due to risk of damage to the physical health of the woman.

  6.  There is a need for Ground C of the form to be properly divided in to separate physical and mental health sections. Forms are quite often lacking proper reasons for the abortion to be performed and the law is being broken all the time.

  7.  The mental problem is sometimes a new psychiatric problem, and sometimes an aggravation of a pre-existing disorder. The data collected by the Office of National Statistics (1994) shows an impressive but rather vague list of mental disorders cited as a reason for abortion:- Affective Psychosis-71.

  Other non-organic Psychosis-1

  Neurone disorders-99,012

  Personality disorders-91

  Depressive disorders-44,005

  Mental Retardation-20.

  "Neurone disorder" (The majority) is a particularly vague disorder to most doctors.

  8.  Doctors should find more difficulty in justifying these reasons in a Court of Law, but very rarely is there a challenge. The case of R v Smith (1974) A11 ER 376 is an illustration however; Scarman. L. J. apparently approved of the view that before forming an opinion on the mental health aspect, one would want to know as much as one could about the patient's general background, such as her past medical history, and whether there had been mental illness in the family. In this case the only ground given was that the girl was "depressed". The Court took the view that such a cursory comment following an apparently superficial examination of her mental health, and the lack of enquiry into matters affecting it, made it reasonable for the Jury to conclude that the doctor had not genuinely formed an opinion in good faith after balancing the risks involved, as the Act required him to do. The doctor was fined £1,000 and given a two year suspended prison sentence.

  9.  A surgeon carrying out an abortion under the Act bears the greater responsibility and should be very clear as to the facts. In balancing the risks involved, as recorded by the two doctors signing the Blue Form, he/she must be satisfied that the operation is proceeding within the terms of the Act, and we believe that this is not often the case. There is an urgent need to improve the Blue Form and ensure it is fully complied with.

  10.  We in the Guild, as is known, do not approve of abortion at all, but it is clear that, with improvements in neonatal care, the upper limit of 24 weeks needs to be reduced.

  11.  The abortion of disabled babies up to term is abhorrent to many in our Society, and creates negative attitudes to all who are disabled, when everyone should be accorded equal standing as unique human beings. It therefore follows that we believe that there should be no distinction between babies "in utero". Especially is late-abortion, for whatever reason, most stressful on the mothers.

  12.  We remain deeply concerned about the use of screening tests to identify children with disabilities before birth, when the usual outcome is that the children are killed. We are very aware of the huge diversity and joy that, for example, children with Down's Syndrome bring to Society, and that this "screening out" of such children is discriminatory.

  13.  Finally, it is appalling that, after 40 years, and six million abortions, we have so little useful data upon which Society can deliberate and find ways of reducing the killing. We call for much more research into the problem, more resources in antenatal genetic research and treatment, more help for those who face this dilemma and the many agencies who try to give balanced help and advice; more care for those who suffer the after-effects, and more genuine debate in Parliament and in the Country at large.


(1)  Cougle J R, Reardon D C, et al. 2003. Medical Science Monitor.9. CR 105-112.

(2)  Professor David Ferguson. 2006. J of Child Psychology & Psychiatry.47 16-24.

(3)  Finland's National Research & Development Centre for Welfare & Health. December 2005.

(4)  CEMACH Report-"Why mothers die". 1997-2002 figures. Chapter 20.

(5)  Wilkinson, French et al. 2006. Lancet.378. 1879-86.

(6)  UNICEF Report. "An overview of child well-being in rich countries". 2007.

(7)  British Journal of Obs & Gynae. Vol 112 (4). Page 430.

(8)  Creinin M. et al. 2006. MedGenMed. 8.26.

(9)  Brind, Chinchilli et al. 1996. J. of Epidemiol & Community Health. 50. 481-496.

(10)  Brind J 2005 J of American Physicians & Surgeons. 10.(4)

(11)  Speckhard A C & Rue V M 1992. Journal of Social Issues. 48. 95-119.

(12)  Reardon D C, Cougle J R, et al. 2003 J of Canadian Medical Association. 168. 1253-56.

(13)  Gissler, Hemminki et al. 1996. BMJ. 313. 1431-34.

August 2007

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