Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Time limit debate signals new attack on abortion rights



Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries MP has been granted a debate on reducing the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks.

The debate, scheduled for Wednesday 31st October at 9.30am, will take place in Westminster Hall, meaning that there will not be a vote on the issue and that there is no immediate threat to the current abortion time limit.

However, Dorries has stated that she is seeking a full parliamentary debate on the issue in May or June 2013, during which she will hope to see MPs vote to reduce the abortion time limit to at least 20 weeks, and possibly lower.

It is likely she will use Wednesday’s debate as a springboard to gather support for a debate in the main chamber and to demonstrate the need to reopen the time limit issue, following remarks made by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt and other ministers recently about their hopes for new abortion restrictions.

MPs last debated the abortion time limit only four years ago, during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill in 2008, when attempts to reduce the limit to 22, 20, 16 and 12 weeks were defeated by large majorities.

Since then, no new scientific evidence has emerged to support the need for a reduction and all the UK’s major professional medical bodies continue to back the current 24 week limit.

Dr Kate Guthrie, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recently reasserted medics’ support for the status quo:

“The comments made by Jeremy Hunt politicise the debate around the abortion time limit and do not put women at the centre of their care. Reducing the time limit to 12 weeks would severely limit women’s choice at an extremely difficult time in their life. At the moment, access to services is sometimes delayed, making it harder for women to get the care they need.

If the intention is to reduce the abortion rate, then health services should invest in the provision of comprehensive contraceptive services that improve access and provide women with a range of options.”

Only 1% of abortions were carried out after 20 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales in 2011. Among those seeking abortion at this stage are women in difficult and vulnerable situations. They include young women concealing or in denial about their pregnancies; women unaware they were pregnant because they had been using contraception, and women whose personal circumstances change dramatically after conceiving due to bereavement, family illness or domestic violence.

Responding to news of Wednesday’s debate, Abortion Rights said:

“Yet again, anti-choice MPs are opportunistically using publicity around abortion to attempt to restrict access to a key public health service. This does nothing to improve women’s health and well being.

For politicians interested in these issues there are many areas to focus on: cuts to contraception and sexual health services, the continued intimidation of women outside abortion clinics by anti-choice protesters; and the lack of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland, for example.

Instead, Nadine Dorries and her allies are choosing to push their own agenda to radically restrict access to abortion. There is absolutely no justification for using parliamentary time on this issue when there is simply nothing new to say and no new evidence.

Nadine Dorries cannot be allowed to keep asking MPs the same question every few years until she gets the answer she wants. “