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CPS not to prosecute doctors

13 September 2013

TWO doctors accused of agreeing to arrange abortions on the grounds of gender should not be prosecuted, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has ruled.

A statement from the CPS said that a prosecution would not be in the public interest, because the matter would be better dealt with by the General Medical Council.

The case was referred to the CPS after an undercover investigation by The Sunday Telegraph. In February, the newspaper reported how undercover reporters accompanied pregnant women to nine clinics around the country. Two doctors were recorded offering to arrange abortions after being told that the mother-to-be did not want to proceed with the pregnancy because of the sex of the unborn child. Abortion on these grounds is illegal.

On Thursday of last week, the Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS, Jenny Hopkins, said: "There are public-interest factors both in favour of and against prosecution. . . One highly relevant factor in this regard is that the responsible professional body, in this case the General Medical Council, is already involved, and has the power to remove doctors from the medical register. . . We have concluded that these specific cases would be better dealt with by the GMC rather than by prosecution.

"In addition, when looking at the culpability of the doctors in this case, we must take into account the fact that doctors are required to interpret the law and apply it to a range of sensitive and difficult circumstances which are not set out in the legislation. The evidence in this case was finely balanced, and the law gives quite a wide discretion to doctors to determine when a risk to the health and well-being of a pregnant woman exists.

"In coming to this conclusion, we have also taken into account the level of harm to the victim in the case, and the fact that in these cases no abortion took place or would have taken place."

The chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said on the same day: "Our role, as laid down by Parliament, is not to punish doctors, but to protect the public, and so any action we may take against a doctor should not be seen as a substitute for action by other authorities."

The chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Ann Furedi, said: "It is hard to see how pursuing these cases would serve any public interest, not least given that both incidents were the result of a sting operation organised by a newspaper. In BPAS's experience, the only women requesting abortion on the basis of gender alone are undercover journalists."

A former director of public prosecutions, Lord McDonald, told the BBC's Today programme: "It seems to me to be a slightly odd thesis that a professional person can avoid criminal action simply because he or she is subject to statutory regulation."

David Burrowes, a Conservative MP, raised the matter in the House of Commons. "There is urgent need for a statement to clarify whether the restrictions on choice in the Abortion Act 1967 are now meaningless," he said.

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