13 May 2008
Dear Member of Parliament,
Re: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – abortion amendments
I write on behalf of the members of Voice for Choice and the twenty-four undersigned organisations, with an urgent request for your support on an issue of great importance to women, especially young women. As you may know, some Members of Parliament have announced their intentions to put amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act so as to make abortion harder for women to obtain. These efforts, to be made via the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, are particularly aimed at lowering the existing abortion time limit of up to 24 weeks of pregnancy on most grounds.
Only 1.45% of all abortions in this country take place at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Why are these abortions late? Some women experience delays in referral. Some learn of serious fetal abnormality. For most, the reasons for late presentation are a combination of not realising they are pregnant, uncertainty about what to do, continuing bleeding which they think is their period, fear of parents’ or partner's reaction, denial that they are pregnant, serious changes in personal circumstances, acute problems such as domestic violence, and not knowing where to seek help. These women are disproportionately likely to be adolescents or other vulnerable women.
Lowering the legal time limit for abortion would punish the women who could no longer access a safe abortion at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but it would not reduce the need for late abortions. In countries where the upper time limit for abortion is lower than in Britain, women are forced to travel abroad for abortion care or seek illegal services at great emotional and financial cost. We call on you to prevent this hardship being imposed on women here.
The proposed anti-abortion amendment is largely based on claims of changes to fetal viability. However, even for those who believe that women’s rights to abortion should be linked to the gestational age at which extremely premature babies can survive, the medical and scientific evidence from the recently highlighted Epicure 2 study and peer reviewed work by researchers at the University of Leicester (the ‘Trent study’ published in the British Medical Journal last week) is unequivocal. The findings show that survival rates for premature babies born below 24 weeks of pregnancy have not improved since the Abortion Act was last amended in 1990.
The UK Government, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the UK’s medical, nursing and scientific professional bodies have examined the evidence, and all agree that there is no compelling evidence to support lowering the abortion time limit.
Please do not compromise – support women in the UK by voting in support of the current 24-week legal time limit on abortion.
Chair, Voice for Choice / Editor, Reproductive Health Matters
on behalf of Voice for Choice members:
Louise Hutchins, Campaign Coordinator, Abortion Rights
Jane Fisher, Director, Antenatal Results and Choices
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive, BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service)
Simon Blake, Chief Executive, Brook
Wendy Savage, Coordinator, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion
Lisa Hallgarten, Acting Director, Education for Choice
Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, fpa
Dana Hovig, Chief Executive, Marie Stopes International
Ellie Lee, Co-ordinator, Pro-Choice Forum
and also on behalf of:
Niall Behan, Chief Executive Officer, Irish Family Planning Association
Irene Donadio, Spokesperson, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Europe
Christian Fiala, President, FIAPAC (International Federation of European Abortion and Contraception Providers)
Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice
Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism
Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
Susan Crane, Director of Operations, Women’s Health Concern
Davina James-Hanman, Director, Greater London Domestic Violence Project
Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society
Lee Eggleston, Trustee, Rape Crisis (England and Wales)
Catherine Forde, Spokesperson, Safe and Legal in Ireland
Mary Muldowney, Spokesperson, Alliance for Choice
Sinead Ahern, Spokesperson, Choice Ireland
Sandra McAvoy, Spokesperson, Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group