Cross-party group wants to remove delays and need for two doctors to approve terminations Denis Campbell, health correspondent Sunday June 10, 2007The Observer
Pro-abortion MPS are preparing for a bitter political battle in an attempt to bring in termination on demand in the first three months of pregnancy.
The cross-party group of MPs will also press to remove the need for two doctors to approve a termination, and for the procedure to be medically justified.
The move, which will be fiercely resisted by anti-abortion campaigners, will also seek to let nurses and paramedics perform abortions and for the operations to be carried out at GPs' surgeries and family planning clinics. MPs will also try to extend the right to abortion to women in Northern Ireland, who are not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act.
The MPs, led by Labour backbenchers Laura Moffatt and Christine McCafferty but with supporters among the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, have been holding discussions about organising a wholesale revision of the 1967 Act. They are looking at the recently-published Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and a possible Private Members Bill, as vehicles for the changes.
Moffatt, the MP for Crawley and secretary of the All-Party Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group, said: 'People think that we have abortion on demand in this country. It isn't. You have to have two doctors' signatures to support your view that you want a termination. A lot of MPs think that women should be trusted to make that decision. In general the pro-choice lobby is in favour of removing the two-doctors requirement. If a woman has made up her mind that she wants an abortion, why delay?'
About 205,000 women and girls in Britain have an abortion every year. Eighty-nine per cent are carried out in the first three months. Abortion on demand would help ensure that most women have a termination within 10 weeks, compared to 67 per cent now, reducing the risks, said Moffatt.
The medical ethics committee of the British Medical Association, which represents most of Britain's 150,000 doctors, last week said that clinical advances in inducing abortion meant that the requirements in the 1967 Act 'are no longer necessary to ensure the safe administration of abortion in the first trimester'. Instead, it said, women should be able to have a termination during the first three months purely on the basis of informed consent - after a doctor has talked them through the risks and benefits. That would remove what the committee called unnecessary 'legislative and administrative burdens created by the Act that, in reality, do not stop women seeking abortion, but potentially expose women to delays and more costly and higher risk procedures'.
Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP and member of the BMA committee, said women should not face any greater hurdles to obtaining an abortion than for any other routine surgical procedure, such as having their appendix out.
Three Ten-Minute Rule Bills seeking to restrict access to abortion have been introduced by Conservative MPs since October, for example by reducing the time-limit from 24 to 20 weeks. But they have been defeated by majorities of 72, 75 and 99, underlining that pro-life numbers in the Commons are relatively small and that there is a comfortable majority of pro-choice-minded MPs on all sides.