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Medics should not report suspected illegal abortions to police, say doctors

Medics should not report suspected cases of illegal abortion to the police, leading women's doctors are set to say.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is expected to publish new guidance that it is "never" in the public interest to share information about suspected illegal abortions.

It comes after high-profile prosecutions, including that of Bethany Cox, who was accused of using poison for an at-home abortion in 2020.

Ms Cox, from Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees, was brought before the courts, only for prosecutors to drop the charges against her earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Carla Foster was jailed last year for illegally obtaining abortion tablets to end her pregnancy - but her sentence was reduced on appeal.

RCOG said it is concerned at the "increasing number of police investigations following later gestation abortion and pregnancy loss and the impact this can have on women".

"We firmly believe it is never in the public interest to investigate and prosecute women who have sought to end their own pregnancy," RCOG president Dr Ranee Thakar said.

"These women should be treated with care and compassion, without judgement or fear of imprisonment.

"Outdated, antiquated abortion laws mean women who have experienced unexplained pregnancy loss are also vulnerable to criminal investigation, and health professionals are placed under unacceptable and unwarranted scrutiny."

Doctors are required to ask for consent before sharing confidential medical information.

But medics can share details if it is in the public interest and "if failure to do so may expose others to a risk of death or serious harm", according to the medical regulator, the General Medical Council.

RCOG has said healthcare workers working with women "rarely" need to be in contact with police.

Healthcare workers must also abide by their "professional responsibility to justify any disclosure of confidential patient information or face potential fitness to practise proceedings", the college added.

"We hope this new best practice guidance gives healthcare professionals clarity around their legal and professional obligations," Dr Thakar said.

"It is vital that they understand what is expected of them and the potential consequences of breaching patient confidentiality."

BPAS (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) said a "culture of increased reporting" can have "devastating consequences".

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A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said they "carefully consider" personal circumstances of those who end their pregnancy outside the legal parameters and "address these as sensitively as possible".

A government spokesman said: "It is important that all women have access to safe and legal abortions on the NHS, which now includes taking abortion pills at home."

He added that "any change to the law in this area would be a matter of conscience for individual MPs rather than the government".

RCOG said the guidance, which was written alongside the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), British Society of Abortion Care Providers and the Faculty of Public Health, will be published later in the week.