Royal College of Midwives head defends support for bid to scrap abortion limit


The head of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has staunchly defended its support for a campaign to stop women facing prosecution for late abortions.

Professor Cathy Warwick, who has come under fire for backing the campaign to scrap the legal abortion limit, said the union wanted to give women control over their health.

The law means that women can face prison if they have an abortion after 24 weeks without medical reason.

She told BBC Breakfast: "We want to decriminalise abortion. We want to give women choice over their reproductive health, we want women to be able to choose both to have their babies and if they can't have their babies, when they want to have an abortion.

"All the evidence suggests that if abortion is decriminalised, women actually have abortions earlier rather than later so we believe it's in women's interests in terms of their health as well as their right to make their own reproductive choices."

She said that "in theory" abortion would be allowed in late pregnancy for any reason under the plans, but said this did not happen in practice.

Doctors who aborted healthy foetuses late in pregnancy could, for example, face prosecution, she said.

"We deliver healthcare within a regulated system... and professionals who would be helping women have abortions work within ethical codes," she said.

"It would be impossible for a doctor to help a woman to terminate her baby at a very late stage of pregnancy if that baby was healthy and normal. It would not fit in with the medical codes of conduct. We are not calling for abortion to be deregulated."

Prof Warwick also said that support to scrap the abortion time limit "does not" require RCM members to be consulted.

She said a move to back a change in abortion law on the basis of a board decision alone was "totally compatible" with how it operates. 

Prof Warwick, who also holds a senior role at a charity campaigning for law reform, said: "The processes within the RCM is that our members elect the Royal College of Midwives board, who set our strategic objectives which we then put into place.

"Linking up with this campaign to change the way we provide abortion is totally compatible with the RCM's objective to ensure high-quality healthcare and choice for women. 

"We haven't consulted the members and under the way the RCM operates, we don't need to consult our members.

"At the moment we have had very, very significant support from our members on this position, as well as of course a few members who say this is not a position they support. 

"But that is always the case when we make choices about what we do and don't do - we can't please everybody all of the time."

Several MPs criticised Prof Warwick's decision to back the campaign to scrap the abortion limit, including Andrew Percy, a Conservative member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee.

He told the Daily Mail: "It is clearly a conflict of interest if she is doing the two roles. It's pretty disgusting.

"She represents midwives, many of whom will absolutely not agree with this campaign, and she should think very hard about whether or not her position is sustainable."

A petition calling on the organisation to consult its members over the "extreme" position has so far garnered 25,000 signatures online.

The online petition said it was "completely out of touch with what most women want".

In a letter addressed to Prof Warwick, campaigners said: "(We) implore you to listen to these women and the many midwives in the college. Most do not share the views of a small number in the RCM."