The abortion law on paper has remained substantively unchanged since 1967. However, abortion in practice has changed so as to bear little relation to five decades previous. Abortion provision has innovated in response to technological change and new medicines, the up-skilling of nurses, developing norms influencing all medical care regarding patient autonomy, and changing social norms for family planning and family building.Abortion in Britain is now considered a core reproductive health care service by relevant medical bodies (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Nurses, Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare). In regard to the public debate about abortion, however, there has been a notable shift whereby the
Abortion in Britain is now considered a core reproductive health care service by relevant medical bodies (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Nurses, Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare). In regard to the public debate about abortion, however, there has been a notable shift whereby the practice of abortion provision, rather than abortion in-and-of-itself, has become the focus for controversy. This has been very evident in recent debates, including in Parliament, about purported problems of abortion provision including pre-abortion counselling, ‘sex selection’ abortion, and ‘pre signing’ HSA1 forms (the forms that are returned to the Department of Health to show two doctors agree ‘in good faith’ that an abortion can be legally provided). The recent controversy has seen accusations of unethical practice and lack of care for patients directed at doctors. It has included unprecedented efforts to bring prosecutions of abortion doctors under criminal law (the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act) on the grounds that practice has breached the demands of the 1967 Abortion Act.
There is little research presently ongoing that explores the tensions at work in the interactions between abortion law, public debate about abortion, and abortion practice. This study begins to address this research gap. Its focus is the sociological question of professional identity; how abortion doctors define the value and contribution of their work, including in the face of criticisms levelled at them, and how they consider their work in relation to their legal obligations.
The final findings of the work will be used to develop tools for a larger study of the professional identity of staff involved in abortion provision.