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RCOG issues guidance for healthcare professionals on involving the police following abortion and pregnancy loss

22 Jan 2024

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), alongside the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), British Society of Abortion Care Providers and the Faculty of Public Health, is soon to publish best practice guidance for healthcare professionals, outlining that they are under no legal obligation to contact the police following an abortion, pregnancy loss or unattended delivery.

The College is concerned at the increasing number of police investigations following later gestation abortion and pregnancy loss, and the impact this can have on women, who may be especially vulnerable and have suffered the distress of a later stage loss. The RCOG and the FSRH have stated that it is never in the public interest to investigate a patient who is suspected of ending their own pregnancy, a view endorsed by over 60 organisations and professionals.

Healthcare professionals working in women’s health rarely need to liaise with the police. Unless a statute requires it (for example with female genital mutilation), a healthcare must abide by their professional responsibility to justify any disclosure of confidential patient information or face potential fitness to practice proceedings. Where healthcare professionals do involve the police it should be in the patient’s best interests or needed to protect others – for example where there is a risk of death or serious harm.

The new best practice guideline sets out recommendations and guidance on the professional and legal obligations to respect confidentiality following an abortion, pregnancy loss or unexpected / unattended delivery. Recommendations for healthcare professionals within the report include: 

  • Do not call the police or external agencies if a woman divulges, or you are suspicious, that she may have sought to end her own pregnancy unless she has given explicit consent to do so, or you consider it justified in her best interests.
  • Do not divulge information to the police or external agencies without a woman’s consent unless you are concerned for her safety or the safety of others.
  • Healthcare professionals and organisations must be able to justify any disclosure of confidential information.
  • Do not take blood tests or other samples at the request of the police unless you are sure the patient has given their fully informed consent, or there is a court order instructing you to do so.
  • Where police request information and state that the patient has given consent, healthcare professionals and organisations must satisfy themselves that this consent is valid.
  • Only information that is relevant to the stated need of the investigation should be released.
  • Where faced with a police or coroner’s enquiry, clinicians should seek the advice of senior staff in their organisation prior to communicating with any external agency unless they have an overriding concern over the safety of the woman or others.

Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“We firmly believe it is never in the public interest to investigate and prosecute women who have sought to end their own pregnancy. These women should be treated with care and compassion, without judgement or fear of imprisonment. Outdated, antiquated abortion laws mean women who have experienced unexplained pregnancy loss are also vulnerable to criminal investigation, and health professionals are placed under unacceptable and unwarranted scrutiny.
“We hope this new best practice guidance gives healthcare professionals clarity around their legal and professional obligations. It is vital that they understand what is expected of them and the potential consequences of breaching patient confidentiality. 
“It is just one of the ways we are working towards removing abortion care from criminal law and placing it instead under medical regulation.”


  • Clinical and research
  • Abortion