Friday, October 22, 2004

Spanish Abortuary Under Criminal Investigation

Spanish clinic faces police inquiry over late abortions
By Daniel Foggo in Barcelona and Charlotte Edwardes
(Filed: 17/10/2004)The Telegraph

A judge is to be asked to institute criminal proceedings against the Spanish
clinic which was exposed as carrying out illegal late abortions on hundreds
of British babies.

A denuncias - the Spanish term for an accusation of criminal activity - will
this week be laid against the Ginemedex clinic in Barcelona, citing the
extensive video and audio evidence collected by this newspaper, proving that
it is flouting abortion laws.

The judge will decide whether to order a full police investigation into the
scandal, which was uncovered when staff at the clinic agreed to carry out an
abortion on an undercover reporter who was 26 weeks, or almost six months,
pregnant, even though both she and the baby were healthy.

The clinic said it would falsify medical notes to say that she had suffered
a "gynaecological emergency" and that it was prepared to carry out such
terminations up to 30 weeks.

The charge will also contain a reference to the British Pregnancy Advisory
Service (BPAS), the NHS-funded charity that "fully recommends" the Ginemedex
clinic to British women wanting late abortions without a medical reason.
Under Spanish law, women more than 22 weeks' pregnant can have an abortion
only if their physical or mental health is at "serious" risk.

The legal move against the clinic is being undertaken by Josep Miro i
Ardevol, a former Catalan government minister who is the president of
E-Christians, a Catholic think-tank. "This charge will be brought mostly on
the evidence, which our lawyers believe has a lot of weight and therefore
has a strong chance of resulting in a conviction," Mr Miro said. "But it
will not only rely on that since there have been suspicions about the
Ginemedex clinic practising illegal late abortions for some time now.

"It is possible that BPAS can also be prosecuted under Spanish law because
of their recommending the clinic to British women. They might claim that
they didn't know the clinic was operating illegally, but ignorance is no
defence.

"They must have a reason to keep recommending it again and again. The
British authorities have a responsibility to look into BPAS to look for any
kind of financial exchange or commission."

Inquiries by this newspaper have uncovered a number of recent concerns
regarding Ginemedex's fitness to practise, which contradict statements last
week by Ann Furedi, the BPAS's chief executive, that the clinic's reputation
was spotless.

Dr Ramon Tanda, one of the clinic's doctors who was filmed during the
undercover investigation preparing to abort the foetus of the reporter for
€3,200 (£2,212), refused to comment when approached outside his flat in a
Barcelona suburb. "I have nothing to say at all," he said.

Catalan government health officials confirmed last week that Ginemedex's
licence to carry out abortions had been withdrawn for almost two years,
between July 2002 and April this year, because of concerns over
"environmental" factors, such as the disposal of its waste and other hygiene
issues.

After this newspaper's expose - which was picked up by the Spanish media -
the Catalan department of health has now launched a new investigation into
the clinic. Last week it sent an inspector to Ginemedex to inspect its
paperwork.

Rafael Manzanera i Lopez, the department's director, said the matter would
be investigated further including the use of copies of the audio and video
tapes and transcripts of the pregnant reporter's conversations with
Ginemedex staff.

On the video and audio tapes, Ginemedex staff are heard confessing that they
are willing to carry out late abortions without the necessary medical
reasons by forging documents to make it appear that the women had urgent
gynaecological problems. They also state that up to eight out of 10 of their
clients are British and most are referred to them by BPAS.

Mr Manzanera said: "I am already liaising with the British ambassador in
Madrid and the consul here in Barcelona and of course I will look at this
new information and act on what I see.

"If there is any falsification of documents, then it is a criminal matter
and it is out of my hands," he said. "That is a very serious crime and a
matter for the police. If there is a prosecution brought, then my department
will strictly seek to comply with the law."

Campaigners have long suspected the Ginemedex clinic of carrying out illegal
abortions. In October 2003, a legal attempt was made to stop a symposium on
abortion held at Ginemedex - and two other clinics run by the Barnamedic
company that owns them - because of suspicions that illegal late-term
terminations were being carried out.

A report from the symposium, which was open only to abortionists, said that
over the course of one weekend, 51 foetuses of gestations varying from a few
weeks to more than 26 weeks were killed. At Ginemedex itself, 15 women had
foetuses aborted by doctors.

The attempted injunction, brought before a judge - who is the equivalent of
a British magistrate but with more authority - by anti-abortion campaigners,
including the Medicos Cristianos de Cataluna (the Christian Doctors of
Catalonia), was rejected for lack of evidence because it could not be proved
that the terminations had not been medically justified.

Dr Josep Maria Simon Castellvi, the president of the Christian doctors'
group, last week hailed The Telegraph's investigation as "a spectacular
breakthrough".

He said: "We have suspected for at least two years that Ginemedex and other
clinics in the Barnamedic group are carrying out illegal late-term abortions
but getting the evidence proved harder than showing that weapons of mass
destruction exist in Iraq.

"It had proved impossible for us to get proof. Thanks to you, however, now
we have it."

When approached last week, staff at Ginemedex claimed that they had done
nothing illegal.

Remedios Valls Herrero, the clinic's head of administration, added: "If they
are going to try to prosecute us they can go ahead. We don't care. We have
not changed any of our practices."

Ms Valls also said that the owner of the clinic, Dr Carlos Morin, a
Peruvian, was not prepared to speak to The Telegraph.