There is no need to reduce the time limit for abortion

Labour Party

Recently appointed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s startling statement that the abortion time limit should be reduced to a mere 12 weeks should give us all pause for thought.

Hunt is the person at the very top, the man who will be charged, if the time ever comes, with any legislation on abortion.

I need hardly point out that halving the current time limit of 24 weeks to a mere 12 will virtually outlaw legal termination all together. We will return to the era of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film Vera Drake when back street abortions were the only answer and women suffered and sometimes died.

I, and I believe most reasonable, compassionate people do not wish to return to the situation before the 1967 Abortion Act.

Abortion is of course undesirable. It is always difficult for those involved. Rarely do women choose to have a termination. When a woman decides to have an abortion she generally does so because the health of the unborn child or her own safety is at risk, she has been raped or her circumstances are so impossible that a child would be unlikely to thrive. We should, in addition, not forget that a termination has to be agreed by two doctors.

The NHS’s own website states that the majority of abortions (98%) are carried out before 20 weeks, 90% of which are performed before 13 weeks.  Information from the Office for National Statistics states: “For women in their twenties and early thirties the percentage of abortions has remained relatively stable and is now in decline.”

Despite many medical advances over the past thirty years, the evidence simply does not stack up that foetal viability has improved past 24 weeks.  Only a tiny number of abortions take place at this point in the gestation cycle, and it is nothing short of scandalous that a Secretary of State can demonstrate such disregard for facts, while also doing nothing to support women who undergo this procedure.

We all want to see the number of abortions in Britain falling. The reality is, however, that abortion will always need to be an option for some women. If safe, legal and clean abortions are made harder to obtain, the numbers of women seeking illegal terminations will certainly rise; thus greatly endangering their lives and long term health.

Given that the majority of abortions are carried out before 20 weeks, Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that the limit should be reduced to 20 weeks, also expressed by Home Secretary Theresa May and Minister for Women Maria Miller, does nothing to move the practical argument forward. Instead, what we see are the Tories attacking hard fought access to abortion which could ultimately harm the health of our nation.