Abortion doctor faces 'confidentiality' inquiry

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The doctor who agreed to abort a one of a healthy pair of twins is to face a health authority inquiry into whether he breached his patient's confidentiality in revealing details of the case to the media.

Senior managers at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, west London will question Phillip Bennett, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, who told a Sunday newspaper that he had agreed to terminate one foetus because their mother, a 28-year-old single parent, felt that she could not cope with two babies.

The hospital found itself at the centre of a debate on selective abortion as "pro-life" organisations mounted a campaign to save the foetus. Three days after the story broke the hospital confirmed that the woman had already had the abortion.

By that time the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child had secured a temporary High Court injunction to stop the abortion going ahead.

Yesterday Spuc dropped its legal action but Life, another "pro-life" organisation, was aiming to step up its campaign for clarification of abortion law.

A Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust spokeswoman said the hospital wanted to see what "lessons could be learnt" from the last few days. "We will clearly have a review and examine the issues involved. This will involve senior managers who during the course of the review will ask Professor Bennett to explain himself."

She stressed however that there was no suggestion of any "witch-hunt". Professor Bennett was reported to have said that the information about the termination was released accidentally.

Meanwhile at Westminster some senior Conservative MPs called for the 1967 Abortion Act to be tightened, raising fears that abortion could become an emotive election issue.

Dame Jill Knight, an officer of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said the law needed to be tightened to stop abortions being carried out for social reasons. "What is happening today is not what was intended of those who voted for the Act," she told BBC Radio. "They did not intend that it should be used simply when the woman did not want the child. There had to be a good reason."

Sir David Steel, who introduced the 1967 Act as a private members' Bill, warned that "pro-life" groups were intent on changing the law by raising emotive cases such as the twin abortion case.

"People opposed to all abortion are prepared to use highly unusual and marginal cases to convince others to abolish legal abortion. The law requires two doctors to agree," said Sir David, and he did not believe it needed changing.

Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, said yesterday there was a case for allowing all 60,000 stored frozen embryos to die. He admitted the loss of deliberately created human life was "repugnant" but believed this was the "least worse" solution to bad laws.