The Department of Health has confirmed the biggest liberalisation of abortion practice since 1967, in guidance published last week.
The document, released for abortion providers the day after the European and local elections, says there is “no legal requirement” for doctors to see women seeking an abortion before approving it.
A recent poll commissioned by The Christian Institute found that close to 90 per cent of people surveyed think patients wanting an abortion should be seen in person by a doctor.
Under current abortion law, two registered medical practitioners must certify that they are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that at least one of the legal grounds for abortion exists.
The new guidance suggests doctors can reach an opinion by considering relevant paperwork or speaking to other health professionals.
It also says that the doctor could have a “discussion by phone or over a webcam” rather than physically seeing the woman.
Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said that a telephone consultation to ensure authorisation, “completely ignores the life-taking nature of abortion, makes a complete mockery of the original Act and would surely not be tolerated in any other branch of medicine”.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “This guidance endorses our practice at bpas.”
The guidance reads: “Although there is no legal requirement for at least one of the certifying doctors to have seen the pregnant woman before reaching a decision about a termination, the Department’s view is that it is good practice for this to be the case.”
Previous guidance from 1999 states that doctors “must give their opinions on the reasons under the Act for the termination following consultation with the woman”.
But The Christian Institute uncovered secret interim guidelines that were sent to private clinics in 2012, which said that doctors approving abortions do not need to see the women involved.
These new rules were intended to address the problems of doctors pre-signing forms and sex-selective abortions, but instead relaxed abortion procedures.
The latest Department of Health guidance is its interpretation of the law, and abortion providers do not have to accept it.
The guidance is for “all those responsible for commissioning, providing and managing service provision”.
A section in the guidelines deals with sex-selective abortions, making it clear that abortion based on sex alone is against the law.