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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 00:00 GMT
Abortion 'should be made easier'
Abortion services 'need updating'
Women are being denied access to safe and effective methods of abortion, says the Family Planning Association.

It says the current law is too inflexible, and the NHS has failed to make abortion services a priority.

The report calls for a time limit of 72 hours for an abortion from the time a woman first contacts a health professional.

It will be presented to a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice Group on Wednesday.

We need an abortion service fit for the 21st century.
Anne Weyman

The FPA found access to early abortion varies widely. For instance, three times as many women in North East Lincolnshire (79%) in 2001 obtained an abortion before 10 weeks compared to women in Great Yarmouth (26%).

NHS funding for abortions was equally varied. In 2001 Coventry funded 96% of all abortions, but in Kingston and Richmond the figure was just 50%.

The report recommends that the NHS pays for a minimum of 90% of all abortions.

Anne Weyman, FPA chief executive, said: "Many women find themselves ruled out of suitable, safe methods of early abortion due to delays in the system or inadequate funding at local level.

"Such inequalities in service provision are deplorable and unjust."


The report also calls on Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to tackle the stigma surrounding abortion by recognising it as just one of a range of fertility control services and integrating it into mainstream sexual health provision.

The FPA ignores the fact that every abortion kills a real living human being who has as much right to life as the rest of us.
Nuala Scarisbrick
It also suggests Strategic Health Authorities should set targets with incentives and penalties attached so PCTs improve access to abortion.

Dr Caroline Mawer, a consultant in Public Health and GP who worked on the report, said: "Real improvements could be made to waiting times and choice of abortion method for women by extending the role nurses already play in providing abortions and training more doctors to perform uncomplicated surgical abortion."

The report also recommends changing the 1967 Abortion Act to allow abortion on request within legal time limits.

Dr Mawer said: "The need for the signatures of two doctors before an abortion can go ahead should be abolished and the procedure treated like any other, where a woman makes a choice and then consents to treatment."

The FPA also wants to see uncomplicated early abortion being made available in settings such as GP surgeries, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics.

It says the requirement for the Department of Health to license premises for abortion should be scrapped.

It also suggests suitably trained nurses should be allowed to perform early surgical and medical abortion.

Anne Weyman said: "We need an abortion service fit for the 21st century.

"Current procedures are in severe need of an overhaul and are failing women at a time when they are most vulnerable.

"Services must be modernised to incorporate changes that will benefit the one in three women who will have an abortion during her lifetime."


However, the anti-abortion group Life condemned the FPA as "ruthless and mindless".

Spokeswoman Nuala Scarisbrick said: "The FPA is demanding ever more easy access to abortion and ever more killing.

"Blinkered as ever, the FPA ignores the fact that every abortion kills a real living human being who has as much right to life as the rest of us.

"They are blind to the fact that abortion - however it is done and whoever does it - is a horrible, humiliating experience for women.

"We want less abortion, not more. A truly civilised society would want none."

Mrs Scarisbrick blamed abortion for increased rates of female infertility and breast cancer.

She said post-abortion trauma was now a major problem, and argued that more readily available abortion had helped to fuel a big rise in promiscuity and sexually transmitted infections.

Government response

A Department of Health spokesperson said 5m had been invested in abortion services in the last two years to tackle regional variations in access.

"In 2001 we set a new standard of three weeks for the maximum time a woman should wait from the first appointment with her GP or other referring doctor.

"We are closely monitoring PCTs to measure the improvements being made and once there is clear evidence that the three week standard is being met across the country, we will revise the standard to help drive down access times further."

The BBC's Glenda Cooper
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