The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest abortion provider, and a group of other organisations recently launched a campaign for the repeal of all legal limitations on abortion in the UK. As a midwife, I was shocked to discover that one of those signatories was the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
If what the BPAS campaign is calling for were ever implemented – the total removal of abortion from criminal law – it would mean that there would be no restriction on abortion whatsoever. This would put the UK in a small international club that includes China and Vietnam - where abortion is available, for any reason, up to birth. The RCM's decision to support the campaign means that the body that represents me and my vocation advocates for a legal situation in which a baby can have its beating heart stopped - or be dismembered to allow its body parts to be passed - throughout the entire third trimester: 24 weeks and beyond. Is anyone surprised that so many of us find this not only unacceptable, but revolting?
The RCM is meant to be two things: a professional organisation, and a trade union. As the former, it should be the standard bearer for Midwifery itself, and champion the ethic behind that vocation. As the latter, it should represent us, its members, the ordinary midwives who keep the maternity care of the NHS running on a daily basis. In supporting the BPAS campaign, and in adopting as an official position the total removal of all limits on abortion in the UK, it betrays both its roles.
I chose to pursue a career in midwifery because I wanted to help women and babies throughout one of the most vulnerable times of both their lives – pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Helping a mum bring a new life into the world is a (very tiring) privilege and joy. Yet the campaign that the RCM has signed up to is antithetical to this wonderful calling. It would be extremely distressing for midwives to care for women and their unborn children up to eight months into a pregnancy, only to be made to cooperate in those children’s termination.
Furthermore, the campaign is utterly contrary to the views of most women. Recent polling has consistently demonstrated that a larger proportion of women in the UK want more, not fewer restrictions on abortion. A ComRes poll in March 2014 found that 88 per cent of women favoured a total and explicit ban on sex-selective abortion, whilst 92 per cent agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor. Contrary to the aims of Cathy Warwick and BPAS, in 2012, an Angus Reid poll found that only 2 per cent of women wanted the time limit extended beyond 24 weeks, whilst 59 per cent of women favoured a reduction in time limits.
Every debate on the abortion issue this millennium so far has led to the conclusion that women want abortion restricted, especially when it comes to those that are later in pregnancy and undertaken on misogynistic grounds. When BPAS and the RCM say that their joint campaign 'trusts women', apparently this doesn’t include the vast majority of women who disagree with its aims.
Unfortunately, this extreme and minority position that contradicts the ethical basis of midwifery and the views of British women on the legality and regulation of abortion, has been taken by the RCM leadership without any mandate from us, ordinary midwives. Not only was there no consultation of the RCM membership, there was not even a vote on the RCM board. For a member organisation of the TUC, this flies in the face of the democratic way in which a trade union should work.
Instead, it appears to be the ideological agenda of the RCM’s Chief Executive, Cathy Warwick, who is also chair of BPAS itself, an organisation that provides a roughly a third of all abortions in England and Wales, and so benefits directly from the extended legal status of abortion. BPAs is paid around £25million a year by the NHS to conduct abortions.
The RCM’s position has absolutely no mandate. It has no basis in the purposes of the Royal College, the ethic of midwifery, the views of the vast majority of women, or the consensus of midwives. Rather, it is utterly unrepresentative of all these things. That is why I signed the Not In Our Name open letter and am supporting the accompanying public petition and campaign: to state publicly that neither the support of the BPAS campaign nor the new position paper speaks in our name as midwives and as members of the RCM.
In taking this new and radical policy, the RCM is failing not only British midwives, but the women and children we are called to serve. I call upon anyone reading to support us in our attempt to call them back to the humane principles on which our profession should be based.
Sally Carson is a midwife from Chester