Viv Groskop: Leave our pro-choice culture alone

Pro-choice advocates concerned that we're turning the clock back on abortion

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The Independent Online

So who'd be an abortion doctor? In the US, probably not many. But what about in the UK? Are we going to roll over and accept the idea that it would be a "brave", even political, career choice? We have worked so long and hard to destigmatise abortion. Now we're heading straight back into the dark ages, to a place where women are seen as being too stupid to know their own minds.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service is the latest to voice concerns. As pro-life activists were joined by a Catholic bishop at one London protest, there are reports that it's not uncommon for doctors and nurses to "navigate through sometimes angry – sometimes not – protesters". Now Dr Paula Franklin, medical director of Marie Stopes, says: "It isn't easy to find doctors who will work in termination services."

The problem is, many in the current administration regard Labour's social legacy as unacceptable. They misconstrue "pro-choice" as being the same as "pro-abortion". It's not. But still the Government has forged ahead with unannounced inspections by the Care Quality Commission of more than 250 clinics in England, claiming that up to 20% of clinics were pre-signing consent forms for terminations. (A termination requires the signature of two doctors.) Where did this claim come from? We don't know.

Reporting on the motivations behind these spot checks has been muddled. And so far the results of the inspection are equally murky. The CQC investigations were ordered by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, following a report in the Daily Telegraph, which claimed that three private clinics had been involved in sex-selection abortions. But while these alleged procedures would be illegal – and are abhorrent – they have absolutely nothing to do with the day-to-day running of abortion services in the UK. Since then Lansley has made inscrutable remarks about tightening up on abortion laws generally, including the extraordinary, largely overlooked statement that: "Abortion should only be available where there are good grounds for it." If that isn't a sentence to appease the pro-life community, I don't know what is. Who will decide these "good grounds"?

Already the debate is widening and anti-abortion campaigners are poised to picket, US-style, outside clinics where they can target vulnerable women. Thanks for that, Coalition! As for the so-called "Liberal" Democrats, where are they in all this? Nowhere, of course. We had managed to get to a point where we were close to being a pro-choice culture, where the decision for or against a termination is regarded as an individual matter. The latest rumblings suggest that instead of being neutral on this emotive and intensely private issue, we are slipping quietly on to a pro-life path. And surely there are no "good grounds" for that.