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
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
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.