England -- NATIONAL Health Service hospitals are being forced to turn away women seeking abortions because of an acute shortage of doctors willing toperform abortions. A third of junior doctors are refusing on moral grounds to conduct the operation, according to research.
The first study into conscientious objection, to be published next month, shows that in some hospitals all the junior doctors have exercised their right not to perform abortions. Nearly a quarter of NHS hospital consultants nationwide said that they could not recruit sufficient doctors to meet the demand.
The survey of 310 consultants and 226 senior registrars and senior house officers found that although more than two-thirds saw abortions as an essential part of training they could not persuade younger colleagues to view it in the same way.
David Paintin, emeritus reader in gynaecology and obstetrics at Imperial College, London, said the numbers of doctors who objected in the past were so few that it had not been an issue.
"A much wider range of junior doctors are saying that it is something they don't want to do," he said. "They find the idea of [abortion] distasteful."
Although overall the NHS funds 73% of abortions across the country, the provision varies widely between health authorities. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the abortion rate at its highest for seven years at 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women. There were 17,000 abortions conducted in Britain last year.
A Catholic Church initiative which offers women financial support and counselling if they decide against having an abortion has resulted in 87 babies being born. The Archdiocese of Glasgow said yesterday that 41 girls and 46 boys, including three sets of twins, had been born since the scheme was launched 18 months ago.