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Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Nurses 'could perform abortions'
Abortion suction machine
Nurses do not carry out surgical abortions currently
Early surgical abortions could be carried out by nurses, according to a new interpretation of the law.

Experts said an analysis of the 1967 Abortion Act and subsequent case law showed it would be legal and would help improve access to abortion services.

They said a doctor would need to be in overall charge but not necessarily present, the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care reported.

But the government said it disputed the conclusion.

At present nurses only give medications to induce abortions.

However, the experts only advocated the role for early abortions, as late abortions are more complex due to the size of the foetus and possible complications.

The role of nursing is being extended and there is no reason why, with the correct training, nurses cannot carry out surgical abortions
Spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The suggestion has sparked controversy, with anti-abortion campaigners saying it would remove the safeguards.

But health professionals said they would not be opposed to the move.

The analysis by Vincent Argent, a consultant gynaecologist with legal training, and Lin Pavey, a nurse and former manager of a clinic run by abortion provider British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said that the Abortion Act had demanded a registered doctor carry out the termination.

But the Royal College of Nursing then sought court advice in 1981 to clarify the legal position of nurses carrying terminations using a pill.

It was ruled that, like other hospital treatments, terminations were carried out as part of a team and that, as long as the procedure was carried out on the instruction of a doctor, that met the requirements of the law.

The report authors concluded that, as the judgement made no distinction between a surgical abortion or medical abortion, nurses should be allowed to carry out terminations.


But Anthony Ozimic, political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "Do nurses really want to perform abortions, the killing of innocent human beings?

"The pro-abortion lobby claim that so-called safe, legal abortion was necessary to safeguard women's health yet, having achieved legal abortion, the pro-abortion lobby now wants to remove safeguards by getting nurses to do doctors' dirty work for them."

Madelaine Ward, a family planning nurse and former chairperson of the Abortion Law Reform Association, now known as Abortion Rights, said: "In so many areas of health provision, nurses have provided improvements in access to and quality of care.

"The time is now right for nurses to be trained to perform early surgical abortions under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner."

And a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists added: "The role of nursing is being extended and there is no reason why, with the correct training, nurses cannot carry out surgical abortions.

"It could also help to improve access to services, which is something we would support."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We will consider this article in more detail, but the Department of Health currently takes the view that the case law referred to in the article does not authorise a nurse to perform a surgical abortion."

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