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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
Late abortion referrals 'legal'
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The BPAS is responsible for around a quarter of all abortions in Britain
A charity that referred abroad a woman who was seeking a late abortion was not breaking the law, an inquiry says.

But the report by England's Chief Medical Officer criticised the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's (BPAS) handling of the case.

The Sunday Telegraph said BPAS referred a woman to abort a 26-week-old foetus. The legal limit in the UK is 24 weeks.

BPAS said it was pleased the inquiry found it was operating legally and would study the recommendations.

The Sunday newspaper reported BPAS was helping set up late abortions after an undercover journalist was referred to a Spanish clinic by the charity to abort a 26-week-old foetus.

We welcome the confirmation that the service we provide is lawful
Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Although the legal limit for most abortions in the UK is 24 weeks, BPAS does give women past that stage details of other countries where they can obtain abortions.

The only exceptions to the UK rule is where a woman's life is in danger or if there is a real risk that the child, if born would have a severe physical or mental disability. In those cases, there is no legal time limit.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said BPAS, which carries out 50,000 private and NHS abortions a year, gave out the Spanish clinic's details "too readily" and was not giving out appropriate advice to women seeking late abortion.

His report said those seeking late abortion should be put in contact with an experienced counsellor.

But once that had happened it was legal to give out details of clinics abroad, the report said.

'Tighten procedures'

He said BPAS should tighten its procedures, and has given the charity until October to respond.

BPAS, which receives about 100 calls a year from women seeking late abortions, has already stopped giving out the details of the Spanish clinic.

Sir Liam also called on all abortion providers to develop a national best practice protocol for handling late abortion cases and to review practices to identify any unnecessary delays in the service.

The Sunday Telegraph also reported how a West Midlands GP had referred a woman to the Spanish clinic, but the chief medical officer did not include the case in the report because of possible criminal proceedings.

BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi said: "We welcome the confirmation that the service we provide is lawful.

"We will have to look at the report's recommendations."

But she added: "The real scandal of late abortion is that services nationally are inadequate to meet the needs of the small numbers of women who require these procedures."

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "The Department of Health has no reason to doubt that BPAS provides a good, safe and legal abortion service and sees no reason why it should not continue to provide this service to women."

Julia Millington, of the ProLife Alliance, said: "On the basis of the chief medical officer's criticisms alone, one wonders how any country would entrust women's health to such an organisation."

BPAS chief executive denies breaking law

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