A professional organization has advised medical professionals in the UK to not notify law enforcement if they suspect a patient has terminated a pregnancy unlawfully.
According to the BBC, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has stated that it is not in the best interest of the public to disclose information about women who undergo abortion procedures to law enforcement authorities.
According to the law, patient information cannot be shared without their permission. However, healthcare workers may violate confidentiality regulations in order to provide the police with details about potential crimes, but only if it is determined to be for the greater good of the public.
Since 2022, there have been six instances where women were brought to court and numerous investigations were conducted due to suspicions that they had terminated their pregnancies outside of the lawful parameters set for abortions. In the two decades prior to this, only three women were charged.
In England, abortions can only be carried out by a licensed medical professional and must occur within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Any intentional termination of a pregnancy outside of this time frame is considered illegal and is punishable by up to life imprisonment under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists expressed worry about the growing number of legal cases involving women who are “deeply traumatized” and vulnerable.
According to its official guidelines, healthcare professionals must provide valid reasoning for any sharing of patient information or else risk potential consequences for their professional status.
Jonathan Lord, the medical director of the RCOG, expressed to the BBC that a law meant to safeguard women is now being used against them.
In other areas of healthcare, we have not seen the same level of damage to women and their families due to NHS staff reporting suspected crimes. We believe this is a unique issue that needs to be addressed.
“We work with individuals from the most vulnerable populations who may have reservations about seeking regulated healthcare services. It is essential for us to earn their trust.”
The Lord stated that he believed certain NHS employees may have disclosed information to the police due to their lack of knowledge about confidentiality rules.
According to him, numerous women who were researched had experienced miscarriages after the expected time or had been further along in their pregnancy than they initially thought when they chose to end it.
In 2020, Carla Foster was imprisoned for obtaining her own abortion, while Bethany Cox from Teesside was recently found not guilty of the same accusation. Three additional women facing charges for illegal abortions are scheduled to have their court hearings later this year.
According to the BBC, the Crown Prosecution Service stated that these types of cases are uncommon and are handled with care, but they have a responsibility to uphold the law.