This article appeared in the August 2007 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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BMA Annual Conference

Abortion was on the agenda of the BMA annual policy making conference in June. In fact, there were seven motions on it and a petition from over 700 ordinary members calling for a proper consultation with the membership on this increasingly contentious issue.

It is clear that a growing number of doctors are refusing to co-operate with abortion and many more would like to see it otherwise restricted. There were 7 motions on the agenda on the subject, 4 of which called for this. Of the other 3, one was from Junior Doctors, but we learn it was not discussed at their meeting earlier this year. Nevertheless, it appeared on the agenda in identical wording to another motion, and the two were merged and selected for debate, being allocated all the debating time. It was, furthermore, supported by a document sent to all delegates by the Ethics Committee of the BMA. You might say that the cards were well and truly stacked and the two thirds majority needed to make it policy was just achieved by 2 votes.

The policy now is that first trimester abortions should be made easier by taking away the stipulation, put in place by Parliament, that two doctors signatures were required, but the two parts of the motion concerning other relaxations, that would have permitted nurses to carry out abortions away from registered clinics failed to get the required votes.

The whole issue is likely to reappear in Parliament which has before it the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. This will be used as a vehicle to re-open the abortion question. Observers of the scene may detect the hand of politicians behind all these manoeuverings.

A sensible emergency motion calling for proper consultation and evidence based reflection was defeated and portrayed as a "wrecking motion". It was only taken after the liberalising motion had been passed. Conference veterans easily recognised the clever use of procedure and fear of the membership which has been seen before, notably over the so-called "neutral position" previously adopted by the BMA over doctor assisted suicide. That was reversed, when it became clear that it did not correspond with the views of the membership. It remains to be seen whether a similar groundswell will affect this call for liberalisation of the law on abortion, which in a chilling misuse of language was referred to as "treatment". This is how the official voice of the BMA now describes the destruction of 20% of healthy pregnancies.