8th April 2010
David Cameron has called for a reduction in the abortion time limit, re-igniting an issue debated, and decisively rejected, by Parliament in 2008. His proposal, reported in the Catholic Herald newspaper on April 9th, disregards current medical opinion and scientific evidence and threatens to undermine a crucial right for British women.
Foetal viability was rigorously examined by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in 2007. The Committee concluded, in a view shared by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, that:
“while survival rates at 24 weeks and over have improved they have not done so below that gestational point. Put another way, we have seen no good evidence to suggest that foetal viability has improved significantly since the abortion time limit was last set, and seen some good evidence to suggest that it has not.”
Abortion Rights notes that when the abortion time limit was last debated in Parliament in 2008, during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, MPs voted decisively to retain the current 24 week time limit. George Osborne was the only member of the current Shadow Cabinet who backed 24 weeks – other front-bench Tories voted to lower the limit to 20, 16 or 12 weeks, or were absent from the House.
The vast majority of abortions in the UK are carried out before 13 weeks of pregnancy (90% in 2008) and 73% take place below 10 weeks. Less than 1.5% of abortions are carried out later than 20 weeks.
Later abortion is disproportionately likely to involve teenage or vulnerable women. Typically it is requested after delayed recognition of pregnancy, family or relationship breakdown, domestic violence, sexual assault or rape; ‘denial’ of pregnancy due to fear of parents’ or partners’ reactions; not knowing where to ask for help, delays to referral or the diagnosis of a serious foetal abnormality.
Darinka Aleksic, Campaign Co-ordinator of Abortion Rights, said:
“Abortion Rights rejects David Cameron’s claim that developments in medical science and technology mean that the abortion time limit should be reduced . All the major British medical bodies agree that the current 24 week time limit should be maintained.
Reducing the time limit would have serious negative consequences for the well-being of the small number of women needing a later abortion each year – who often face extremely distressing circumstances.
The majority of the British public support a woman’s right to choose, and will not appreciate Mr Cameron’s attempt to exploit this serious personal health issue for political gain in the run up to the general election“.
Read the Catholic Herald’s article here
Coverage of the story, including comment from Abortion Rights, in the Guardian
Or read Abortion Rights’ blog piece on the issue