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Midwives chief acknowledges conflict of interest

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The chief of the midwives’ union has previously said that her role is incompatible with her position as Chairman of the UK’s leading abortion provider, according to the Daily Mail.

Cathy Warwick, who is both Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), has come under fire over the past week after it emerged that the RCM has quietly backed BPAS’ campaign to decriminalise abortion.

The BPAS campaign ‘We Trust Women’ effectively calls for the removal of the current 24-week limit. In response to RCM’s support of the campaign, midwives, MPs, Christian Concern and other pro-life groups have called on Cathy Warwick to step down from her position as RCM head.

36,000 people so far have signed a petition, 'Not in our Name', to express objection to RCM’s backing of the campaign. The signatories include around 750 midwives.

'Doesn’t quite go together'

The RCM has a membership of 30,000 midwives, but members were not consulted on the new policy, which if implemented would have serious ramifications for freedom of conscience for midwives who oppose abortion.

Earlier this week Cathy Warwick refused calls to resign from her post, claiming the two roles were not incompatible.

Last year, however, she reportedly told delegates at a family planning conference hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine: "When I moved to be chief executive of the RCM, I thought I can't stay involved with BPAS – midwives and abortion, [it] doesn't quite go together. And I stopped being a member of trustees at BPAS."

She later changed her mind: "Then I thought, hang on, this is all about women, about choice, that's what midwives are there for. I got back in with BPAS and didn't see the two as incompatible at all."

Professor Warwick was a BPAS trustee from 2007 to 2008. She left when she became chief of the RCM – but then returned as a trustee in April 2010, before becoming BPAS chairman in March 2015.

'Educate midwives'

Ms Warwick has said in the past that she believes midwives should be 'educated' about abortion.

She told the June 2015 conference in central London: "I don't accept that you can't educate midwives."

Referring to those who wished to abstain from abortion procedures, she said: "In a sense midwives have removed themselves from this arena and have a focus on, 'The woman is going to come out with a baby'.

"So I think there is a need to... think about how we engage organisations like the one I represent in perhaps changing some of the attitudes and perspectives."

A London midwife has responded to this with indignation. Elizabeth Perfect, 48, said: "You can't be a midwife unless you are highly educated. She is entitled to her opinion, but... the RCM should have consulted members over this."

'Get around law'

Professor Warwick also spoke at the conference about "how we get round" current abortion law. She said that it was a “major problem” that under the 1967 Abortion Act, only doctors may only perform abortions.

She added: "I think it is about the law and how we get round it. Some might say, we can get round it by things like the doctor running round signing all the blue forms [believed to mean the authorisation forms], but you could argue it is not particularly safe."

Her statement effectively suggests pre-signing authorisation forms for abortions without proper scrutiny – which is illegal and dangerous.


After encountering strong public opposition to the BPAS campaign, following its backing from the RCM, both Cathy Warwick and BPAS head Ann Furedi have attempted to justify the campaign.

Warwick said in the Guardian this week:

"According to some coverage, the RCM is campaigning to legalise abortion on demand, at any time during pregnancy, for any reason.

"First, this is not true. Second, it misrepresents what the campaign to decriminalise abortion is about and aiming to achieve.

"Let me put the record straight about what the RCM is actually supporting. It is in favour of decriminalising abortion. In keeping with this position, the RCM does not believe it is right that in the 21st century those women who choose to have an abortion can be criminalised. Put simply, this means they can be sent to jail for having an abortion, unless it is within the very strict parameters of the 1967 Abortion Act, which effectively gives others control over a woman’s decision-making."

Warwick goes on to say:

"[Canada’s] experience since decriminalisation is that over 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester, only 2-3% are done after 16 weeks, and no doctor does abortions past 20 or 21 weeks except for compelling health or genetic reasons."

'Abortion on demand'

Christian Concern’s Chief Executive, Andrea Williams, responded to these assertions:

"Professor Warwick is attempting to deny that advocating for the decriminalisation of abortion is effectively advocating for abortion on demand," she said.

"Over 500 abortions currently take place in the UK every day and it is not difficult to obtain one. New statistics revealed this week showed that some babies are even aborted for conditions like a cleft palate – by no means untreatable or life threatening. To suggest that doctors still adhere to ‘strict’ parameters is false and misleading."

She continued:

"Ms Warwick points out that doctors in Canada do not do late-term abortions except for 'compelling' health or genetic reasons, but such a definition is unclear and subject to interpretation.

"The public outcry this week is a clear indicator that this campaign to remove the 24-week limit far from corresponds with general opinion. It is unacceptable that the RCM's chief should be so blatantly advocating this agenda, which so strongly contradicts the role of a midwife." 

Related Links: 
Sign the 'Not in our Name' petition (Not in our Name)
Revealed: Abortion U-turn of midwives' union chief after she admitted both jobs 'didn't go together' (Mail) 
As midwives, we support women – whatever their choices on abortion - Cathy Warwick (Guardian)
On abortion, we trust women - Ann Furedi (Spiked)


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