Lower abortion limit to 20 weeks

Maria Miller: I would vote to lower abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks
The abortion limit should be lowered from 24 weeks to 20 to reflect
dramatic improvements in medical science since the law was last
changed, the new women’s minister has said.

Mrs Miller’s statement is likely to enrage pro-choice groups who were
already furious at Mr Cameron’s decision to appoint Jeremy Hunt as his
new Health

By Nick Collins

03 Oct 2012

Maria Miller told the Telegraph it was “common sense” to lower the
legal limit at which a pregnancy can be terminated in order to
“reflect the way science has moved on”.

Thanks to advances in care for children born very prematurely, it is
now possible for doctors in some cases to save the lives of babies
born before 24 weeks.

The medical advance raises the moral dilemma of whether it is right to
end pregnancies which could result in a healthy child, or to lower the
window and rob some women of the right to make their own choice.

In her first public comments on the matter since she voted to reduce
the legal limit for abortion to 20 weeks in 2008, Mrs Miller said she
would “absolutely” do the same a second time.

Her controversial remarks come just weeks after being appointed
minister for women and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
in David Cameron’s first cabinet reshuffle.

She told the Telegraph: “You have got to look at these matters in a
very common sense way. I looked at it from the really important stance
of the impact on women and children.

“What we are trying to do here is not to put obstacles in people’s way
but to reflect the way medical science has moved on.”

The statement is likely to enrage pro-choice groups who were already
furious at Mr Cameron’s decision to appoint Jeremy Hunt, another
supporter of lowering the legal abortion limit, as his new Health
Minister.

In 2008 Mr Hunt voted in favour of halving the limit from 24 weeks to
12, the most extreme of the various proposed new limits put before MPs
in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Last week activists delivered a batch of 600 coat hangers to Mr Hunt
at the Department of Health, claiming that restricting women’s rights
would cause a rise in “illegal and unsafe” procedures taking place
outside registered clinics.

It came as a study by the Guttmacher Institute in the US found that
England and Wales has the highest rate of abortions among women aged
under 20 in Europe, with 22 abortions per 1,000 teenagers.

The research, published in the International Perspectives on Sexual
and Reproductive Health journal, showed that teenagers account for one
in five of all abortions taking place in the country.

Mrs Miller insisted her decision to support lowering the legal limit
was not a snub to women’s rights, describing herself as “very modern
feminist” who is “riven by that very practical impact that late term
abortion has on women.”

Her comments echoed a claim by Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP,
who last year launched a bid to tighten abortion laws while insisting
that doing so made her “more of a feminist”.

Ms Dorries argued that people who supported the current 24-week limit
were ignoring “the number of women who are traumatised and vulnerable
during the abortion process”.

Her proposed amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, which would
have required all women having an abortion to be given counselling
from an organisation which does not itself offer terminations, was
heavily defeated in Parliament.

A second amendment aimed at stripping the Royal College of
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of its role setting clinical
guidelines on abortions, was also rejected by MPs.

While the majority of abortions in Britain occur before 14 weeks’
gestation, between one and two per cent happen after 20 weeks,
totalling about 3,000 terminations per year.

Abortions are occasionally permitted after 24 weeks, but only in rare
circumstances where there is evidence of severe deformity in the baby
or the mother’s life or health is at serious risk.

The Church of England has traditionally been opposed to abortion but
Dr Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, indicated in
a speech last night that there are certain situations where “abortion
is the lesser evil”.

He told the Theos think tank: “You are not going to solve ethical
issues like abortion by saying it is like having a tooth out, or it is
simply a material transaction. Nor are you going to sort it out by
saying ‘We’ve got to work out when the soul enters the body, and
somehow it’s all right before and it’s not all right after’.

“I would say that as soon as there is what you would call an
individual there, we have something that begins to make the claim of a
person.

“That may still leave open all kinds of complex issues about when
abortion is the lesser evil. I just don’t want us to gloss over the
fact that we are talking about personal relational realities here.”