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08 October 2012

Arguments against abortion limit review 'stuck in the past'

Arguments against abortion limit review 'stuck in the past'

On the eve of the Conservative party conference, health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed a reduction in the time limit for abortions to 12 weeks. This has brought the issue of abortion back into the news and a public debate is developing about whether the current limit of 24 weeks is appropriate.

His comments followed a statement from Maria Miller, the minister responsible for women and equalities, last week which backed a smaller reduction to 20 weeks. Theresa May, the home secretary, also backed a modest reduction.

The time limit for abortion was last voted on in 2008 when parliament rejected a variety of options to lower the limit during the passage of the Human Fertility and Embryology Act. The Christian Medical Fellowship noted that of the 16 Conservative MPs in the Cabinet at the moment 13 voted for some reduction in 2008.

The prime minister supported Jeremy Hunt's right to a personal view on the issue but reiterated that this would not be pursued by the government.

Decisions over laws relating to ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia are usually conducted through free votes where MPs are allowed to vote with their conscience and the political parties do not support one particular side of the debate.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, commented on these developments: "It's time we took a proper look at the laws we have around abortion, and do so in a way that isn't distracted by the usual hysteria.

"Abortion is an important issue for society, and we need to be able to talk about it in a sensitive and intelligent way. With babies now surviving outside the womb before 24 weeks it is clearly time we took another look at the law. Allowing abortions on virtually any grounds up to this time is simply not sustainable."

Abortions are allowed for a variety of grounds if approved by two doctors. Most abortions - 91 per cent - already take place before 12 weeks, and even more - 97 per cent - are done because continuation of the pregnancy is considered to involve a greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother than if the pregnancy was terminated.

Dr Landrum went on to say: "The arguments against reviewing the time limit are stuck in the past. Although abortion is always traumatic for the women involved, too often it is treated as a routine medical procedure by the law. In reality, it is nothing of the kind. If we really want to describe ourselves as a compassionate society, our overriding concern must be to protect the vulnerable, and unborn babies are the most vulnerable of all."