A Litany of Horror at the UK's Second-Largest Abortion Provider

“Women have been kept in the dark for far too long about the standards of care at Marie Stopes clinics.”

Marie Stopes House in Great Britain
Marie Stopes House in Great Britain (photo: Kim Traynor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thousands of pro-life advocates in the U.K. have signed a petition calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to strip Marie Stopes International (MSI), the country’s second-largest abortion provider, of its license to perform abortions.

The petition comes in the wake of a series of inspections by the U.K.’s health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which revealed some questionable practices.

The first surprise inspection, which took place in the summer of 2016, resulted in the suspension of abortions given to all women under the age of 18 and women officially classified as “vulnerable,” such as those with learning difficulties due to concerns that protocols regarding informed consent were not being followed. Abortions requiring the use of anesthesia and sedation were also temporarily suspended and one facility in the eastern counties was temporarily closed.

A second follow-up report was then issued six months later, which revealed that MSI still had no effective assurance system in place to measure the accurate and appropriate completion of the checklist necessary for each stage of the surgical abortion procedure, and that revised infection prevention and control audits had still not been introduced. Furthermore, the CQC noted that there was no evidence of increased audit at locations, where MSI knew that there were issues with infection prevention and control.

Separate media investigations also had revealed that MSI had been approving thousands of abortions without meeting women. When a representative did meet with a client, the conversations sometimes lasted as little as 22 seconds. It was also reported that the facility that was temporarily closed had been signing off on abortions following short telephone conversations without the woman seeing the two doctors who are required by law to legally authorize the abortion.

Undercover reporters also alleged that following a telephone consultation, the official note of the woman’s reason for having the abortion was completely different from what she had said on the phone. Abortion is only legal in the U.K. if it falls under one of six specified grounds.

Delivering the petition to the Department of Health on Aug. 7, Antonia Tully, director of campaigns for the Society for Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the old pro-life group in the U.K., said “Marie Stopes International has been exposed for behaving shamefully in breach of the law. … This petition demonstrates the strength of feeling in the court of public opinion. It is about time the Health Secretary referred these scandalous matters to the prosecuting authorities to allow the criminal courts to become involved too.”

John Smeaton, chief executive of SPUC, said that the revelations were “nothing less than a scandal and demonstrates exactly how the abortion industry regularly and without impunity makes a mockery of the law.”

Stephen Sharpe, the chief executive of LifeCharity, another U.K. pro-life group, said, “In view of such appalling treatment of women, not to mention their continuing callous disregard for unborn children, we are calling on the Secretary of State for Health to withdraw from Marie Stopes International the license to carry out abortions.”

Less than a week after the petition was delivered, yet more revelations hit the media, that the CQC had made a third visit to Marie Stopes in February and uncovered yet another catalogue of failure. The most shocking revelation was that almost 400 botched abortions had taken place at Marie Stopes facilities from January and February, with 373 women having to return for further treatment after their initial surgery failed to remove either part or all of the fetus.

Eleven women needed to be taken to hospital emergency rooms between October and December following abortions at Marie Stopes, with one patient requiring emergency surgery and two others needing blood transfusions. Other incidents reported by inspectors included an unregistered nurse working at one facility, and no reliable quality control to ensure the professional competency of nurses. Staff were not trained to identify complications when performing scans and, in one incident, a patient’s consent for her abortion was only obtained after it had been carried out.

In addition, staff at one facility on the border of East London, an area with a high concentration of immigrants, ignored advice from inspectors to be trained about female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation and anti-radicalization practices. A new managing director, appointed in January, left two months later and key jobs in infection control, safety and a medical directorship were left unfilled.

Speaking to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Lord David Alton, a pro-life member of the House of Lords said, “As this is the second time MSI have been brought to book for failing, the government should cease giving them taxpayers’ money.”

Marie Stopes derives approximately £35 million ($45 million) of government funds for providing abortions on behalf of the National Health Service, which outsources the majority of abortions in the country to both them and another private organization, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. MSI also receives another £46 million ($59.2 million) on an annual basis from the U.K.’s Department for International Development to provide contraception and abortion in developing nations.

The pro-abortion lobby in the U.K. has become increasingly aggressive over the past few years and are currently lobbying for full decriminalization of abortion on demand up until birth, as well as for the introduction of U.S.-style buffer zones outside abortion businesses, despite the fact that the abortion culture wars have never been a feature of U.K. politics, with pro-life vigils only attracting a handful of quiet, mainly elderly participants.

Speaking to the Register, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, organizer of the U.K.’s annual March for Life, expressed her concern that British Pregnancy Advisory Service was about to renew its campaign for buffer zones and full decriminalization in the fall, and said that she had spotted as many as three ambulances at a time, when she has been participating in prayer vigils outside the Birmingham facility, in the Midlands.

Vaughan-Spruce reported that she had witnessed “women being carried out in stretchers, in wheelchairs or wandering out alone being sick in the gutter. Many’s the time that boyfriends/husbands who are from other countries (and support their girlfriend/wife in having an abortion), come out of Marie Stopes saying ‘How can you treat your women like this?’”

Pro-lifers in the Republic of Ireland, where Marie Stopes is vociferously campaigning for the lifting of the Eighth Amendment that recognizes and protects the life of the unborn, have also drawn attention to the latest damning report. Dr. Ruth Cullen of Ireland’s Pro-Life Campaign, joined in the calls for the suspension of abortion services at all Marie Stopes centers, where Irish women travel every year. Cullen reminded readers of the case of an Irish woman who died immediately after undergoing an abortion at the Marie Stopes facility in London, in 2012.

“I have to ask,” said Dr. Cullen, “where is all the outrage from pro-choice women’s groups about these latest revelations? Closing ranks in an attempt to avoid negative publicity seems more of a priority for some than informing women about the very real threats to their health and lives.

“Women have been kept in the dark for far too long about the standards of care at Marie Stopes clinics. This latest scandal reveals the lengths some are prepared to go to in order to give protective cover to the abortion industry. Pro-choice groups are totally preoccupied at present with attacking Ireland’s life-saving Eighth Amendment, which protects pregnant women and their unborn babies. It’s time these campaigners acknowledged where the real threat to the right to life is coming from and faced up to what the latest Marie Stopes scandal has brought to light.”

Just as in the U.S., the abortion industry in the U.K. is busting wide-open the myth that legal abortion brought an end to the horrors of the unregulated back-street practitioner.