16:02, October 29 74 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-29 16:02:03
Abortion shouldn’t become a postcode lottery

The proposal by Zoe Williams (G2, 26 October) that there should be no specific legal framework for the regulation of abortion suggests a comparison with the situation which pertained in Scotland before the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which outlawed abortion in England and Wales, did not apply to Scotland. Prosecutions of backstreet abortionists were brought under the common law of unlawful killing or, sometimes, on the grounds of practising medicine without a licence. The Scottish police made it clear that they had no interest in investigating what occurred in hospitals. Thus, as far as the performance of abortion by qualified medical practitioners was concerned, the matter was left to the conscience of individual doctors. The result was what we would now call a postcode lottery, determined by the views of individual gynaecologists and the relative influence of the Catholic church. Some areas, such as Aberdeen, operated a relatively liberal policy; others, such as Glasgow, were very restrictive. This circumstance was regarded by many observers as not satisfactory. It is not a coincidence that the proposer of the 1967 bill, David Steel, and its principal medical advocate, Professor Dugald Baird, were both Scottish.

Professor Malcolm Nicolson

Director, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Glasgow

In his response to Zoe Williams’ article on abortion, CDC Armstrong (Letters, 27 October) misses a critical point. In suggesting that the decision to abort a pregnancy shows a lack of maternal devotion, Armstrong neglects to understand that a significant number of women chose to abort an unplanned pregnancy simply to enable them to continue to provide a full maternal role to their existing child or children. A mother who places the needs of her living children ahead of those of an early gestation foetus shows true maternal devotion.

Sally Johnson

Guildford, Surrey

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