Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Anti-choice MPs to “force a new debate” on abortion time limit

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A cross-party group of anti-choice MPs is planning to re-open the issue of the abortion time limit in parliament.

The Sunday Times (paywall) reported that the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group is “determined to keep the issue on the political agenda amid concern about the number of terminations for trivial reasons, and medical advances that have greatly increased the chances of survival of babies born prematurely”.

The move comes in response to a statement from Sir George Young MP, leader of the Commons, that the government had no plans to reform the current law.

The Sunday Times article quoted a poll carried out for the paper by YouGov, which apparently showed that slightly more survey respondents back than oppose a reduction in the current abortion time limit (37% against 34%).

The chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, Mark Pritchard MP, was quoted as saying: “I hope the government will once again recognise overwhelming medical and public opinion which wants to see the existing time limit reduced.”

In fact, anti-choice arguments about about both public and medical opinion and medical advances are far from convincing.

On closer inspection, the YouGov poll shows that 5% of respondents favoured increasing the current 24 week abortion time limit, bringing the ‘pro-choice’ figure to 39% of the total. Only 6% of respondents favoured banning abortion altogether.

Survival rates for babies born around and just before the 24-week mark have stayed more or less static in recent years, despite advances in other areas of prenatal care.

The medical establishment also supports the status quo: a poll at the British Medical Association’s conference in June 2011 found 61% of members in favour of keeping the limit at 24 weeks, with 32% against, and 7% abstaining.

The last time there was a parliamentary vote on the abortion time limit, in 2008, the proposal to reduce the limit was comprehensively defeated. However, David Cameron has made it clear that he supports a reduction in the time limit to 22 or 20 weeks, as do many Conservative government ministers.