Before they can get an abortion, women currently need the signature of two doctors prepared to say there is a risk of physical or mental injury to mother or child. According to a survey, six out of 10 family doctors say the abortion laws should be eased to make a termination available on request in the first three months of pregnancy.
The survey, carried out for Marie Stopes International, the family planning charity, is the largest for 26 years and covered 8,000 GPs, a quarter of the total. It found that support for "abortion on request" had grown from 24 per cent of GPs at the time of the last survey in 1973 to 60 per cent today.
Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said last year that he supported the easing of restrictions to make abortion more accessible to teenagers. In a rare disclosure of his personal views, he suggested the requirement for two authorising doctors might be reduced to one. Downing Street moved swiftly to distance Tony Blair from his remarks and earlier this month the Government's policy proposals on curbing teenage pregnanciesmade no mention of easing the abortion laws.
The Marie Stopes survey also found that almost one GP in five said they were anti-abortion. The report says this would translate into 1,680 GPs nationwide who "may be actively working against the 1967 Abortion Act and preventing women's access to abortion on spurious legal grounds".
Helen Axby, the deputy chief executive of Marie Stopes International, said: "We are disturbed that a small but significant minority of GPs may be imposing their own moral standards and values upon women, causing distress, delay and financial hardship."
The report cites examples of women who suffered at the hands of unsympathetic GPs. One pregnant adolescent, who was told that, if she was mature enough for sex, she was mature enough for the responsibilities that came with it, found the experience so demoralising that when she got pregnant again she forced herself to miscarry by punching herself in the stomach. Others described their GPs as "hostile, aggressive or dismissive". One said she was made to "feel dirty".
Ms Axby said: "Abortion is a lottery - arbitrary, discriminatory and unfair. It is time to acknowledge the flaws in the 1967 Act and work towards a system which ensures every woman with a crisis pregnancy receives prompt, non-judgemental care and support."
Doctors were criticised yesterday for not warning women taking the contraceptive pill that they risk getting pregnant if they take antibiotics. The results of two studies showed that young women were not routinely being asked about their contraception when being prescribed antibiotic drugs, according to a report in the Journal of Accident and Emergency Medicine. Antibiotics make the Pill less effective to the extent that one in 100 users can expect to get pregnant in the course of a year.