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Making A Killing
Our disclosure today of the links between the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and a Spanish clinic practising illegal abortions arose from an investigation by this newspaper into the extent to which abortion on demand is available in this country for late-term pregnancies.
What our undercover reporters, Daniel Foggo and Charlotte Edwardes, have unearthed is a quite extraordinary arrangement that makes a mockery of BPAS's claim to be a responsible charity worthy of NHS funding, and poses urgent questions for the Spanish authorities and British Government.
As Charlotte Edwardes writes, her initial "requests" for a termination at Bupa and Marie Stopes International at 21 weeks gestation met responses entirely consistent with the requirements of the 1967 Abortion Act. She was asked if she had sought counselling, and warned, in both cases, that most consultants draw the line at 18 weeks. If the principle of abortion is accepted, then both these bodies acted with responsibility, sensitivity and professionalism.
In complete contrast, BPAS instantly did all in its power to provide our reporter's would-be abortion on demand: the service was unable to see her in time to meet the 24-week limit imposed by the law, but advised her to go to Spain.
As a matter of fact, the charity regards this as part of its mission. In July, Ann Furedi, the chief executive of BPAS, said: "We are able to provide women with details of clinics abroad where post-24-week abortions are permitted." This, our own investigations confirmed, is a matter of policy at the service's clinics throughout the country. It is hard to avoid the impression that BPAS, in contrast to other agencies advising pregnant women, views the provision of abortion through crusaders' eyes.
In the case of Spain, where abortion has been legal only since 1985, what Ms Furedi said is literally true. But the practice in which BPAS connives is shockingly dishonest. Abortion is indeed permitted by Spanish law up to full term where there is a "grave or serious threat to the physical or psychological wellbeing of the mother".
But, self-evidently, this condition did not apply to Charlotte Edwardes, who was told by a nurse at the Barcelona clinic in a taped conversation: "There is a loophole in the law . . . So if you have a normal pregnancy but still you want [an abortion], what we do is put on the paper that there was a gynaecological emergency." Medical forms, in other words, are, as BPAS would surely have been aware, routinely falsified.
As our reporters discovered, furthermore, the fee charged by the Barcelona clinic is dependent on the length of the pregnancy. The more developed the foetus, the more you pay. It is hard to conceive of a more grotesque personification of callousness and indifference to the termination of a life than the image of Dr B R Tanda, the clinic's physician, which we publish today. We have moved from the seedy illegal abortionists of the 1950s to the impatient doctor-businessman, tapping his watch in surroundings that more closely resemble a Las Vegas nightclub than a medical institution.
Our investigation should trigger immediate practical action: first, the Spanish police and government will surely wish to close down this clinic, which so flagrantly breaks that country's laws on abortion. Second, John Reid, the robust and no-nonsense Health Secretary, must investigate the extent of the collusion between BPAS and the Barcelona clinic, and how much the British charity - which receives approximately £12 million of taxpayers' money per annum through local health authorities - knows about the fraudulent practices in Spain. Third, the Charity Commission should launch an urgent inquiry into BPAS to establish whether it has breached its charitable status.
Ms Furedi has written that "the few women who request late abortions do so because their specific circumstances lead them to believe that it is better if their pregnancy does not result in a child. Changed knowledge about the foetus does nothing to change these circumstances". That, at least, is honest.
The chief executive of BPAS takes the view that nothing - nothing - that new scientific research has to teach us about the pain felt by the foetus, its capacity to manoeuvre itself in the womb as early as 12 weeks and its ability to smile, yawn and cry five weeks later, has any bearing on the woman's "right to choose".
The women who take advantage of the system established by BPAS are no doubt troubled, frightened and, in many cases, morally confused. But what BPAS advises them to do is illegal in Spain. Worse, it dehumanises the woman herself, reducing her to the status of a "client", steered cheerily towards late abortion as an easily available service rather than a horrendous last resort.
As for the unborn child, it is swallowed up in a tide of lies, deceit and - in Spain at least - easy money. How ironic that those who campaigned most vigorously against back-street abortions have conspired to create a new, glossier but no less sinister marketplace of death.