British Pregnancy Advisory Service

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The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is a British charity whose stated purpose is to "[support] reproductive choice by advocating and providing high quality, affordable services to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies with contraception or by abortion."[1]

Origin[edit]

BPAS was founded in 1968 in Birmingham as the Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service. On the day that the Abortion Act 1967 came into force, Saturday 27 April 1968, the first patients had their consultations in the front room of the then Chairman, Dr Martin Cole.[2] At that time patients had to travel to London for termination, but a clinic was opened in Birmingham 18 months later.[2]

Abortion[edit]

In addition to providing abortion counselling and treatment at over 40 centres across England, Wales and Scotland (over 93% of clients have their abortion treatment funded by the NHS),[3] BPAS also provides emergency contraception, vasectomy and sterilisation, and vasectomy reversal services. BPAS's South London Clinic was one of the first recipients of the Department of Health 'You're Welcome' award in March 2009, for providing high standards of health care to young people.

BPAS gained substantial media attention in early 2011, when the charity went to the High Court seeking a legal re-definition of 'treatment' under the terms of the Abortion Act, which would have enabled women to have administered the second drug used in the 'abortion pill' treatment in their own homes. BPAS argued that such a change would have brought UK practice into line with best clinical practice, and with practice in countries such as the USA, Sweden, and France; and that it would have dramatically improved the experience of early medical abortion for women. The judge in this case did not accept the definition of 'treatment' proposed by BPAS, but confirmed that the Secretary of State for Health has the power to approve women's homes as a 'class of place' where certain abortion drugs could be taken.

In 2008 BPAS, along with other organisations in the Voice for Choice network, called for improvements to the abortion law during the Parliamentary debate over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill. The government guillotined discussion of the HFE Bill in such a way that proposed clauses related to abortion could not be debated.

Donor Insemination[edit]

From the early 1980s BPAS carried out donor insemination treatments initially using 'fresh' sperm which was donated at the required time of the insemination. Later, after concerns about HIV in the early 1980s, sperm which had been frozen and thawed by BPAS was used instead. This enabled it to be quarantined and the donors re-tested. BPAS continued to store donor sperm and to carry out treatments until the HFEA came into being in 1993. Although it never carried out treatments under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, the BPAS held a storage licence until the end of 1997. Its central London clinic, which was located in Charlotte Street W1 and was known as the Pregnancy Advisory Service (PAS), also carried out treatments using donor sperm before the passing of the Act. It held a treatment licence under the Act and continued to carry out artificial inseminations under the auspices of the HFEA. Unusually at the time, many of the patients of the PAS were single women or coupled lesbians.

PAS ceased to carry out donor insemination treatments at the end of 1996 and it sold its client list to the London Women's Clinic in 1997. PAS continued to collect and process sperm samples from donors until October 1997. At the end of 1997 BPAS and PAS sold on their remaining stored sperm. With the consent of the donors and in compliance with general directions issued by HFEA which covered such cases at the time, both the BPAS and the PAS quite lawfully sold their stored sperm to fertility clinics outside the UK for use in 'donor treatments'.

Criticism[edit]

In late 2004, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph presented a video to the British government (Health Secretary Dr John Reid and Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson) showing BPAS counsellors referring women whose pregnancies were too advanced for legal abortions in Britain (past 24 weeks) to a clinic in Barcelona, Spain.[4] A report filed by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, in September, 2005 was critical of some aspects of BPAS counselling, but concluded that, in the matter of BPAS staff referring (in the broad sense, not the strict medical definition) women with late-term pregnancies to the Ginemedex clinic, BPAS had not broken any laws. The report stated unequivocally that BPAS's ability to provide abortion and reproductive counselling and services (within its mandate) had not in any way been compromised, and that no changes in funding should result. It further stated however, that protocol for late-term abortion counselling was sorely lacking, and that the government and interested agencies must develop said protocol with all possible speed. [5]

The non-discriminatory policy employed by BPAS in relation to the treatment of donor insemination also lead to criticism. In 1991 a forty-year old woman who said she was a virgin gave birth to a child as a result of treatment provided by PAS. This was widely reported in the press at the time under the heading 'virgin birth'.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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