The news came after the "pro-life" charity, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc), obtained a temporary High Court injunction yesterday afternoon against Queen Charlotte's Hospital until 10am today, preventing termination of the pregnancy.
But within an hour, it emerged that the move was too late and the abortion had already taken place - according to one report, four weeks ago. A spokesman for Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust in west London, which covers Queen Charlotte's, said: "Professor [Phillip] Bennett [the woman's doctor] has spoken to the woman who is happy for us to confirm only that the operation taken place."
Lord Robert Winston, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Hammersmith, said the operation had been carried out four weeks ago. "It was only done after a series of consultations with a number of senior consultants," he said.
The selective termination was believed to be the first of its kind in Britain. Professor Bennett, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's, agreed to terminate one foetus because the mother had said she could not cope with two babies.
"Killing one healthy twin sounds unethical," he said earlier this week. "But my colleagues and I concluded ... it would be better to terminate the pregnancy as soon as possible and leave one alive than to lose two babies."
Selective termination is usually used when in vitro fertilisation results in a multiple pregnancies. Doctors can choose to abort one of the foetuses if it shows a sign of abnormality or if a number of embryos implant in the womb increasing the risk of complications.
Spuc said it was "very sad" about the abortion, and warned that the woman and the surviving twin would suffer "problems for the rest of their lives".
A spokeswoman for the Lone Twin Network said she felt "terribly sorry" for the mother and surviving baby. "The surviving twin will feel huge anger towards the mother and an enormous, gaping, aching sense of loss for the rest of his or her life."
The woman, a 28-year-old single mother with one child already, was said to be in "straitened circumstances". When the story emerged, "pro-life" charities offered her a four-figure sum to save the foetus. By yesterday, pounds 60,000 had been pledged.
Professor Wendy Savage, spokeswoman for Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, condemned it as an "auction" while Ann Furedi, of the Birth Control Trust, said it "smacked of stunt politics".
Staff at Queen Charlotte's said they could not pass on details of the offers because of confidentiality rules. Earlier in the day, both Spuc and Life, another anti-abortion organisation, said they were obtaining counsel's opinion on the possibility of obtaining an injunction requiring the hospital to inform the woman of offers of help.
The issue of breaching confidentiality was raised by Tory MP Ann Winterton, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, who is demanding an inquiry. She said: "I am writing immediately to the Secretary of State for Health, asking him to make full inquiries and to take any necessary action. As we understand it, the information came from the hospital and ... we have been regaled with statements from Professor Bennett, who showed no apparent concern whatsoever regarding possible confidentiality."
Professor Bennett was last night reported to have said the information about the woman's case had been released accidently.
Professor Savage said: "People should be able to feel they can go into hospital without the risk of people leaking sensitive information. A woman should feel safe talking to her doctor."
Professor Bennett is said to hold deep religious beliefs and believe abortion is morally wrong. However, he feels he has no right to impose his views on patients.Reuse content