Thursday, May 22, 2008

SPIKED-ONLINE.COM: Abortion in Britain- The Debate Aint Over Yet

From Thursday 22 May 2008

Ann Furedi
Abortion in Britain: the debate ain’t over yet
Ann Furedi welcomes British MPs’ defence of the 24-week time limit, but says much more can be done to free up and streamline abortion services.

Following this week’s debate about abortion in the House of Commons, Ann Furedi of bpas – the leading provider of abortion services in the UK – says we now must debate how to make it easier for women to access abortion.

This week’s vote in the UK parliament to retain the 24-week upper gestational limit for most abortions was important for two reasons.

Firstly, because it retained the precedent that has existed since abortion was legalised in England and Wales in 1967 that the time limit is set by medical and scientific consensus on viability. Secondly, because MPs acknowledged why women need access to abortion services in the later weeks of the second trimester, and indicated that this would not change even if access to earlier abortion was improved.

There was much discussion on the floor of the House of Commons about ‘evidence’: evidence from august medical bodies about when severely premature infants can be kept alive, and evidence from abortion providers about the circumstances of their clients. There was little discussion about ‘principles’: whether abortion is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, whether it is a ‘social good’ or a ‘social evil’.

For those of us who have watched the debates evolve over the decades, it was interesting to see how the limits of the discussion have shifted. In 1990, the best of the pro-choice placards and posters demanded that abortion should be available ‘as early as possible, as late as necessary’, suggesting that women’s need for abortion should be met irrespective of fetal viability (a principle that was adopted for women whose pregnancies were affected by a serious risk of severe abnormality). At the other end of the spectrum, the anti-abortion lobby argued that abortion was murder and should not be tolerated by civilised society.

During Tuesday’s debate, there was no consideration about whether a time limit is necessary and no argument about the need to outlaw abortions entirely. How curious to hear the most vociferous opponents of abortion accepting that abortion should be available to 12 weeks, and arguing that a reduction to 12 weeks would still allow the majority of procedures to take place. Did we really see that veteran anti-choice war-horse, Ann Widdecombe MP, walk into a division lobby in support of abortion in the first trimester? Tactics, tactics; it was all about tactics; it was all about what could be won.

Abortion politics in parliament today is about pragmatism more than principle. The anti-choice movement accepts that it cannot win support for an outright ban on abortion. The pro-choice movement accepts that politicians will set restrictions. Everything is about where the boundaries of provision are set. The discussion as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill shuffles towards its Report stage and final vote will be focused on the ‘politics of the possible’. And there is much that should be possible.

The ‘progressive’ or ‘modernising’ amendments that have been discussed by the pro-choice movement are so moderate that they were recommended by a recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The possible amendments that will receive serious consideration will not ‘liberalise’ the abortion law, in the sense of making it easier for women to have abortions in circumstances which would now be restricted. They are modest measures that would make the provision of services more straightforward and less bound by out-of-date bureaucracy.

The current requirement for two doctors to certify that a woman meets the legal grounds for abortion has been questioned even by many parliamentarians who wished for a lower gestational limit. The two-doctors rule is not a clinical assessment and not linked to obtaining consent, which happens later during a medical consultation. The requirement was seen as essential in the 1960s to underline the gravity of the abortion decision, and to provide reassurance to doctors who were concerned that abortion referrals might be challenged and who thus drew confidence from a colleague’s ‘second signature’.

But today, when abortion referral is so common and it is accepted by officials that the law can be interpreted to provide abortion when a pregnancy is unwanted – because it is accepted that an unwanted pregnancy is a threat to mental health – the certification requirements have become nothing more than a tick-box exercise. The doctors are not even required to see the woman – both can sign ‘unseen’ – making their assessment on the basis of recommendations made by a nurse or counsellor. Currently, it is difficult to sustain an argument for why two doctors need to certify rather than one. It is even difficult to argue that it should be a doctor that signs rather than a nurse or other trained professional. An amendment to get rid of the ‘two doctors’ requirement would eliminate some unnecessary bureaucracy that can sometimes delay treatment and which wastes clinicians’ valuable time.

Currently the law insists that only doctors registered with the General Medical Council can perform abortions. This requirement means that nurses can only assist and not take responsibility for carrying out procedures. This is frustrating for nurses denied the possibility of developing and practicing skills that are seen as a normal part of nursing care in other countries. Early aspiration abortion procedures are less complicated than many procedures routinely undertaken by nurses, and nurses already lead many early medical abortion services – doing everything except prescribe the drugs.

Even the Royal College of Nurses, not the most radical of institutions, is solidly behind a reform that would allow nurses to take responsibility for abortion care – a move that would make it possible to increase access to early abortion by increasing the number of appointments, and improve the quality of care.

Forty years ago, when the Abortion Act was passed, abortions were a more complicated medical procedure, usually requiring an overnight stay in hospital, and legislators were concerned to ensure that women received appropriate clinical care in properly equipped clinics. Memories of ‘backstreet’ abortions were recent, and the legislation was designed to ensure they were eliminated.

But today, an increasing number of pregnancies are terminated by medication: the abortion pill. This is a procedure that does not fit easily into a clinical environment, and it would be best if the medication used to bring on the woman’s ‘miscarriage’ were taken in the comfort and privacy of her own home, as happens in the US and many European countries. Yet the law, as it stands, means that women must receive the drugs at a licensed clinic and then travel home. In effect this undermines the quality of care that clinics can provide, as it means that women are at risk of starting to cramp and bleed while they are travelling. The current requirement for places using the abortion pill to be licensed by the secretary of state for health excludes facilities that could meet the technical requirements for early medical abortion provision, and consequently denies women more local, easily accessible services.

And then there is the issue of Northern Ireland, which was excluded from the provisions of the Abortion Act in 1967, meaning that a woman in Newcastle, County Down, is denied a procedure that is available to a woman in Newscastle-upon-Tyne, unless she meets the cost and emotional burden of travelling to a clinic in England.

The Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill provides an opportunity for these modernisation measures to be considered in the context of the previous House of Commons vote that endorsed the current time limit. The House of Commons has clearly endorsed legal abortion up to 24 weeks gestation. When abortion is legal, it should be provided to the highest standards, by appropriately qualified staff, in an appropriately equipped environment. The law should surely ensure this and not frustrate it, as it does currently.

There is a longer and more complex debate to be had about the place of abortion in modern society. Right now, the HFE Bill provides an opportunity to deliver a quick fix on areas of the law that are clearly broken.

Ann Furedi is chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the leading provider of abortion services in the UK. bpas is holding a conference in June on the ethics, politics and practice of abortion. A small number of bursary places are available for people unable to obtain funding.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RTE Morning Ireland Audio Link: British MPs reject abortion limit cut

Cut and paste this link and follow news menu to British MPs reject abortion limit cut:
Wednesday May 21st

The Scotsman: Abortion Debate - MPs Reject Call For Time Limit Cut

Abortion debate: MPs reject call for time limit cut

Date: 21 May 2008

AN ATTEMPT to lower the time limit for abortions in the UK has failed, after MPs last night resisted emotive pleas from pro life campaigners.
A bid to lower the maximum term for abortions from 24 weeks of conception to 22 weeks was defeated, alongside plans for a more drastic cut to 12 weeks.

It was the first time the issue of abortion had been debated as part of a government bill for 18 years. The last time was 1990, when abortion times were cut from 28 weeks. But months of behind the scenes campaigning from religious groups motivated MPs to introduce amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFE).

In three hours of impassioned debate, most of it on the anti abortion side, MPs discussed the scope for limiting the procedure. One of the main considerations was at what age an aborted foetus could survive.

There was evidence showing medical advances could help a baby as young as 25 weeks to survive, but scientists have argued that there is not enough proof to show any but a tiny percentage could live if born at 24 weeks or less.

Edward Leigh, a former Conservative minister and a father of six, put forward an amendment to bring the UK into line with the 12 week limit of other European countries, such as France, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain.

This was rejected by 393 votes to 71. An attempt then to reduce abortion term limits to 16 weeks was also rejected by more than 300 MPs, while a bid to cut the time limit to 20 weeks was rejected by 332 to 190.

A much tighter vote came on the amendment proposing cutting the limit to 22 weeks, which was also rejected by 233 to 304; a majority of 71. Ahead of the vote, Mr Leigh made an impassioned plea.

"In modern Britain the most dangerous place to be is your mother's womb," he said. "It should be a place of sanctity."

He said that "98 per cent of abortions are social – only 1.3 per cent are for foetuses which are handicapped, 0.4 per cent are for risk to mother's life. It is a bleak picture of modern Britain."

Nadine Dorries, a Tory MP who unsuccessfully tried to introduce a private bill to limit abortions, described how she had been turned against them after witnessing abortions as a nurse. She recounted her experience of witnessing a "botched" abortion where a little boy survived for seven minutes.

"A live abortion became a death in seven minutes. I knew then that one day I would be able to stand up and defend children like him," she said. Claire Curtis Thomas, a Christian Labour MP, said she was not opposed to abortion, believing that women have the right to choose.

"I just hope they don't choose to have an abortion," she said, adding that she would be happier with a 12 week limit.

Mark Pritchard, a Conservative MP, called for the limit to be 16 weeks.

"I believe that terminating a child should be a choice of last resort – not the latest manifestation of Britain's throwaway society."

Mr Pritchard also brandished pictures of a foetus at 16 weeks, saying it showed a "living, small human being".

Mike Penning, the shadow health minister, argued that women should be given more time to think before they made the difficult decision to have an abortion.

He said the "sheer quantity" of repeat abortions was "enormously disturbing".

However, Christine McCafferty, a Labour MP, said restricting when a woman can have a termination "is just prolonging the agony".

Evan Harris, the Lib Dems' science spokesman and a doctor, said it was not the role of a GP to "hector or impose on women burdensome information about the methods of abortion" if they did not want to know.

But Anne Widdecombe, a former Tory minister and a Catholic, insisted that the rights of women were already limited at terminating a pregnancy up to 24 weeks. She added that if more people could see the babies that were being "wantonly, and I believe wickedly" killed, then there would be public uproar.

She added: "We have in this country a situation in which you can have two children, of exactly the same age and gestation – exactly the same – and one is in a cot with all the resources of medical science being poured into saving it and the other is quite deliberately being taken from the womb and destroyed.

"That is moral anarchy," she said. "That is a totally unjustifiable state of affairs."

Miss Widdecombe urged MPs to protect the most "vulnerable in our midst".

Dawn Primarolo, the UK health minister, said there was no scientific evidence to warrant a reduction in the time limit. She warned that reducing it would force a small number of women who sought late abortions to go elsewhere. And she asked: "Wouldn't it be appalling if we drove women back to where they were before the 1967 act?"

She also rejected calls to remove disability as a ground for abortion, asking: "Is it right to force a woman to carry a child ( with a serious handicap] until it dies in the womb, or is born with no chance of survival?"

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, earlier said he would vote to lower the limit to 22 weeks, although he expected colleagues to vote in all different ways. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems' leader, was expected to reject any moves to restrict abortions. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, voted against any reduction, after insisting there was no medical evidence to justify a change in the law.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, also made a rare trip to take up his seat in the Commons. He was expected to have voted for a reduction in the abortion limit to 20 weeks. Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, Ruth Kelly, Transport Secretary and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, voted in favour of cutting the time limit to 12 weeks. It was the last in a series of free votes on amendments to the HFE Bill. Earlier, MPs voted to include an amendment which ensures clinics prescribing IVF consider a child's "need for a father". Under the present Bill, IVF clinics would only have to take account of the need for "supportive parenting".

And, on Monday, they rejected proposals to ban research using human animal embryos and the creation of so called "saviour siblings".

Despite the vote, abortion on demand remains illegal in the UK. A woman must have the consent of two doctors, on the grounds that a pregnancy will harm her health, before she receives to go ahead to have an abortion.

Pro-choice campaigners have argued that it is this requirement that often forces women to have abortions late. They have pointed out that in other European countries with much shorter term limits, women are granted abortions much more readily.

Following the vote, Louise Hutchins, the campaigns coordinator for Abortion Rights, said: "This was never about the time limit, but women's rights to access safe and legal abortions.

"But there is a long way to go yet. Now we want to see the end of the intolerable situation where women in Northern Ireland do not have any access to safe, legal abortions."

Anne Quesney, the head of advocacy at reproductive healthcare service Marie Stopes International, welcomed the vote as a "victory for common sense" and a defeat for a "minority religious lobby". She added: "(This vote] spells relief for women across the country.

"It is reassuring that a majority of MPs were wise to the emotive and misleading campaign that sought to chip away at women's reproductive rights, and disregarded it in exercising their votes."

Undeterred, pro-life campaigners vowed to start lobbying afresh to reduce the time limit on abortions.

Josephine Quintavalle, a spokeswoman for the Alive and Kicking Alliance, said: "It was always going to be a numbers game.

"We are not disappointed – this has shone the spotlight on the abortion debate for the first time in 18 years and we have seen how Labour MPs line up. This will influence our activities in the run up to the next election."

Ian Lucas, the campaign coordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group, said: "We are disappointed MPs have not seen fit to recognise the wishes of three quarters of the population by lowering the time limit. This comes despite pleas from many to recognise research which has shown that children younger than 24 weeks can survive."

Irish Medical Times: Abortion Access Eased

Irish Medical Times May 16th 2008
By Sandra Ryan

Abortion Access Eased

Access for drug induced abortions may become possible for Irish women travelling to the UK, following a pilot study showing that early medical abortions could be safely carried out in community health centres, GP surgeries and family planning clinics.

The study, carried out at Southampton University, showed that women welcomed the informality and increased availability of staff support, confirming the experience of other countries already offering early abortions using drugs.

Debate over the time limit for abortions has heated up this week in the UK, following proposals to cut the 24-week limit to 22 weeks, while making access to abortion easier for women.

But doctors have siad studies show there is no scientific justification for lowering the 24-week time limit. Research published in the latest British Medical Journal concludes there is no significant improvement in the survival of babies born before 24 weeks' gestation.

Chairman of the British Medical Association's Ethics Committee, Dr Tony Calland, said the work is the most up-to-date research on the survivval of premature babies. 'Although the vast majority of abortions take place in the first trimester there are still women who need abortion services later on in their pregnancy,' he said. 'To lower the limit would leave a number of women in dire circumstances.'

Meanwhile, a report by the Spanish Institute for Family Policies has found that the UK has the second-highest abortion rate (after France) in Europe with 194,353 terminations in 2006.

Letter in the Irish Times: Legislating for Abortion

Letter: Legislating for abortion - Irish Times Wednesday May 21st 2008

Madam, - This week the law governing abortion for Irish women faces a crucial vote on whether to reduce the cut-off period from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. The fact that this vote will take place in the parliament of the United Kingdom once again highlights the political establishment's inaction on the issue of abortion.

To be fair to the former Tánaiste, Minister for Justice and Attorney General Michael McDowell, he at least put forward an amendment to the Constitution which the people rejected in 2002. However, the time has now come to put in place legislation to deal with the issue.

It is estimated that 5,000 Irish women travel to the UK every year to have abortions. We can continue to allow UK politicians to decide the conditions under which these women face their terrible ordeal or we can do the right thing by the women of Ireland and decide on abortion laws ourselves.

It is time to drop the political mantra about abortion being "too divisive" for Irish people to debate. Politics should be about taking action and making decisions. The Irish women forced to travel to the UK deserve that at least. - Yours, etc,


(Progressive Democrats),

Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.

The Irish Times: Attempt To Cut Time Limit For Abortion Defeated

Attempt to cut UK time limit for abortion defeated - The Irish Times
Wednesday May 21st 2008

BRITAIN: AN attempt to cut the time-limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, was defeated in the British House of Commons last night. Voting was 71 to 393, a majority of 322.

Health minister Dawn Primarolo said there was no scientific evidence to warrant a reduction in the time limit. And she accused those opposed to abortion of trying to prevent it by moving a series of incremental reductions in the time limit.

"The upper limit was set by parliament in 1990 at 24 weeks because scientific evidence at the time was that the threshold of viability had increased.

"It has always been linked to the potential viability of the foetus outside of the womb. That was the case in 1967. It was the case in 1990 and certainly the case now."

She warned that reducing the limit would force a small number of women who sought late abortions to go elsewhere.

Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe asked if this should be the determining factor when, since 1990, there was a substantial body of evidence about foetal pain and distress.

Ms Primarolo said it was a difficult decision but there was no evidence that the viability threshold had changed.

"Wouldn't it be appalling if we drove women back to where they were before the 1967 Act," she said.

Ms Primarolo also rejected calls to remove disability as a ground for abortion, asking: "Is it right to force a woman to carry a child (with a serious handicap) until it dies in the womb or is born with no chance of survival?"

Labour's Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) warned arguments over who was right and wrong could leave out the person at the centre of the debate - the mother.

She said: "All too often the woman is left out of this discussion - she becomes invisible - and women have different moral views on whether abortion is acceptable and if so the circumstances in which it is acceptable."

Women never took the decision to have an abortion lightly, she added, saying it was "always a difficult decision".

And she said moral views on the subject were so divided that "we should not seek to impose our views on each other".

Ms Mallaber also warned that a reduction in the limit to 16 weeks could lead to an increase in women seeking "backstreet abortions".

Reducing the limit to 20 or 22 weeks could also lead to some women being "panicked" into having abortions rather than carrying the baby to term.- (PA)

Irish Examiner: MPs Reject Bid To Cut Abortion Limits

The Irish Examiner Wednesday May 21st 2008

MPs Reject Bid To Cut Abortion Limits

Attempts to cut the 24-week upper limit for abortions to 12, 16, and 20 weeks have been rejected by MPs in the British House of Commons. The proposed cut came in an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who proposed the 20-week limit, said she was not anti-abortion but said ‘the baby involved had rights’

But Pro-choice campaigners dismissed efforts to cut limits as ‘cynical’. Earlier Tory MP Edward Leigh, who proposed the 12-week limit, said it would bring Britain in line with most of Europe. But Labour’s Chris McCafferty said the limit was ‘cynical and inhumane’.

It is the second day of the debate on the bill, and comes after MPs voted down a cross-party attempt to ban hybrid animal embryos. MPs also rejected a cross-party move for doctors to consider the need for a ‘father and mother’ before allowing IVF treatment.

British Health Minister Dawn Primarolo insists there is no evidence requiring the abortion laws to be changed. The upper gestational limit for termination of pregnancy was set by the British Parliament in 1990 at 24 weeks because the scientific evidence of the time was that the threshold of viability had increased and babies were increasingly surviving at 24 weeks and above. ‘That was the case in 1990 and it’s certainly the case now.’ But, David Jones, a professor of bio-ethics, said research on the survival rates for extremely premature babies was ‘disputed’.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would vote to maintain the current limit, while Conservative leader David Cameron said he would vote to lower the limit to 22 weeks, which they were still voting on last night at the time of going to press. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who put forward the amendment to change the abortion laws, said she believed the right of a woman to choose had its limits. She reached this decision after seeing the ‘botched’ abortion of a baby boy when she was a gynaecological nurse. ‘I believe a baby has rights. Those rights kick in if that baby were born it would have a chance of life and if it feels pain as part of the abortion,’ she said.

Statement from Marie Stopes International

21 May 2008

Following the outcome of the Parliamentary debate on the upper limit of abortion in the UK, Marie Stopes International issues the following statement:


Last night's vote to retain the 24 week time limit spells relief for women across the country. It is reassuring that a majority of MPs were wise to the emotive and misleading campaign that sought to chip away at women’s reproductive rights, and disregarded it in exercising their votes.

The case for reducing the time limit on abortion derived from a minority religious lobby and had been deceptively based upon both the notion that there are ‘too many abortions’ in the UK and also to the issue of foetal viability. In fact the number of women who have abortions between 20 and 24 weeks amounts to less than 2% of the total, meaning a reduction in the time limit would have a negligible effect upon total numbers. Furthermore, the medical establishment has remained united in refuting the notion that foetuses are now ‘more viable’ below 24 weeks than before. Tonight MPs defeated a series of anti-choice amendments echoing medical consensus.

MPs’ views are also in line with the majority of British women of reproductive age – 61% of whom said there are circumstances in which they think a woman should have the right to access an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks. The survey, published ahead of the vote by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Marie Stopes International, showed that women were sympathetic to their peers accessing a later abortion.

The potential circumstances listed were:

The foetus is diagnosed with severe abnormalities
She was raped
The pregnancy places her own health at risk
She has an abusive partner
She was delayed by her doctor
She did not realise earlier that she was pregnant
She is young and has been in denial of pregnancy signs
Her partner has left her during the pregnancy

“Having secured this victory for common sense, compassion towards women’s needs and sound medical science, it’s now time to look forward to the next stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill,” said Marie Stopes International’s Head of Advocacy, Anne Quesney.

“We expect to see progressive amendments introduced that will improve current legislation, not least the removal of the archaic requirement for two doctors to give permission before any abortion may be performed.”

MPs Throw Out Bids to Reduce Abortion Limit

MPs throw out bids to reduce abortion limit- The Independent

By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Abortions will remain legal for up to 24 weeks into pregnancy after MPs rejected a series of attempts to cut the limit after an impassioned debate in the House of Commons.

In the first test of parliamentary opinion on abortion for 18 years, supporters of a reduction called votes on reducing the limit to 12, 16, 20 and 22 weeks.

But they were thrown out by decreasing majorities, with calls for the 22-week maximum defeated by 304 to 233 votes, a margin of 71. Cheers erupted in the Commons chamber as the final result was announced late last night. David Cameron, the Tory leader, supported 20- and 22-week limits. But Gordon Brown and much of his Cabinet favoured retaining the current 24-week maximum.

Campaigners for a lower limit argued that foetuses were becoming viable at earlier stages of pregnancy and protested that most other European countries banned abortions at such a late stage. Opponents of the move insisted that only a tiny minority of terminations took place after 20 weeks and then mainly on medical grounds. They also maintained that attempts to reduce the limit were the "cynical" opening shots of an attack against abortion in general.

The party leaders granted free votes on a succession of amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which modernises legislation on stem cell research and reproductive medicine.

Emotions ran high – and traditional party loyalties became blurred – during the three-hour debate on abortion. Edward Leigh, a former Conservative minister, who proposed a 12-week limit, said public opinion had shifted in favour of a reduction and argued that abortion laws were "out of step" with many other countries.

He told MPs: "We believe an unborn child of 12 weeks has undeniable human characteristics – her organs, her muscles, her nerves have begun to function. She has fingernails and toenails She needs nothing more than a few months to stay in the safety of her mother's womb for her to become a child."

The Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who argued for a 20-week limit, said there had to be limits to a woman's right to choose. She said she had reached this view after witnessing the "botched" abortion of a male foetus in her former career as a gynaecological nurse.

She said: "I believe a baby has rights. Those rights kick in when if that baby were born it would have a chance of life and if it feels pain as part of the abortion."

Abortion was legalised in 1967 and the upper limit for terminations reduced from 28 to 24 weeks in 1990, the last time the issue was put to MPs.

Dawn Primarolo, the Health minister, said there was no scientific evidence to warrant a further reduction in the limit.

She said: "It has always been linked to the potential viability of the foetus outside of the womb. That was the case in 1967. It was the case in 1990 and certainly the case now."

Four lower limits were put to MPs in a series of votes. They first threw out a call to bring in a 12-week maximum by 393 votes to 71, a majority of 322.

Supporters of this limit included three Roman Catholic cabinet ministers – Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary.

A move to reduce the limit to 16 weeks was defeated by 387 votes to 84, a margin of 303.

A 20-week maximum, was rejected by 332 votes to 190, a majority of 142. The closest vote was the last, when a 22-week limit was defeated by 304 votes to 233, a majority of 71 and a wider margin than some MPs had expected.

That defeat meant that the current 24-week limit automatically stays in place and the scale of the votes means a fresh attempt to cut the limit is unlikely for several years.

A series of contentious issues were aired during two days of debate in the committee stage of the Bill.

On Monday MPs approved the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research and of genetically matched "saviour siblings" to help seriously ill older brothers or sisters. They also removed the requirement for clinics to consider a child's "need for a father" before single mothers and lesbian couples are given fertility treatment.

But the abortion debate proved the most heated. The Labour MP Julie Morgan said that many of those seeking to cut the time limit were "anti-abortion". She said: "Any attempt to reduce the abortion limit of 24 weeks, even to 22 weeks, is an attack on abortion generally."

Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory minister, warned of "moral anarchy" over the treatment of babies.

She said: "We have in this country at the moment a situation in which you can have two children, of exactly the same age and gestation – exactly the same – and one is in a cot with all the resources of medical science being poured into saving it and the other is quite deliberately being taken from the womb and destroyed."

After the votes, the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, one of the most vocal supporters of the existing limit, accused anti-abortion MPs of using "made-up statistics".

But the Labour MP Ian Lucas said: "We are disappointed MPs have not seen fit to recognise the wishes of three quarters of the population by lowering the time limit. We will continue the fight to reflect the wishes of the public, and support the rights of the unborn child."

The law and medical evidence

The 1967 Abortion Act, which resulted from a private member's bill brought by David Steel MP, is still the law governing abortions in England, Scotland and Wales. The legal time limit for abortions was 28 weeks.

The Act does not apply in Northern Ireland, where abortion is permitted only in cases where the mother's life is at risk, or her pregnancy endangers her mental or physical health.

The Human Embryology and Human Fertilisation Act 1990 brought the limit down to 24 weeks. It permitted abortion after 24 weeks if the woman's life was at grave risk, if she was at grave risk of physical or mental injury, and if there was evidence of severe foetal abnormality. In 2006, 193,000 abortions were performed. Of those, 89 per cent took place before 13 weeks and 1.5 per cent were after 20 weeks. Of those after 20 weeks, 90 per cent were performed between 22 and 24 weeks.

A study last month in the British Medical Journal compared severely premature births in England in 2006 with those in 1995. At 24 weeks, 47 per cent survived compared with 35 per cent in 1995. At 25 weeks, 67 per cent lived compared with 54 per cent in 1995. Survival rates among those born at 23 weeks rose from 19 per cent to 26 per cent, but the results were not thought statistically significant.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SKY NEWS: Stormy Clash Over Abortion Vote

Stormy Clash Likely Over Abortion Vote

Jon Craig
Chief political correspondent Tuesday May 20, 2008

A stormy Commons showdown is expected later today as MPs vote on moves to cut the time limit on abortion from 24 weeks to as low as 12 weeks.

Moves to cut abortion time limit
The confrontation comes at the end of two days of clashes on the Government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, even though the Bill does not mention abortion.

Backed by David Cameron, Tory MP and former nurse Nadine Dorries will propose an amendment to the Bill demanding a cut in the time limit to 20 weeks, while other MPs will propose 22, 18, 16, 14 and 12 weeks.

MPs will clash on a Government move to change the law on fertility treatment, replacing the present obligation on clinics to consider a child's "need for a father" with "need for supportive parenting".

The Government's aim is to avoid discrimination against single and lesbian women.

But opponents, led by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, will argue that the absence of a father is detrimental to children.

Today's votes come after the Government comfortably defeated moves to ban embryo research and so-called "saviour siblings" on the first day of the Commons committee stage debating the Bill.

Three Roman Catholic Cabinet ministers - Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy - took advantage of a free vote to vote against the Government and back two separate amendments moved by Tory MPs on embryo research.

Vote to ban embryo research
The first was an amendment tabled by Tory former minister Edward Leigh to outlaw the creation of hybrid embryos to be harvested for stem cell research, which was defeated by 336 to 176, a 160 majority.

The second, tabled in the name of Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his deputy Mark Simmonds, to ban so-called "true hybrids" was also defeated, this time by the narrower margin of 286 to 223, a 63 majority.

Later, an amendment aiming to prevent parents selecting embryos to produce children whose genetic material could help treat a sick brother or sister was defeated by 342 to 163, a majority of 179.

RTE NEWS: British MPs To Vote on Abortion Limits

British MPs to vote on abortion limits
Tuesday, 20 May 2008

MPs at Westminster will vote this evening on whether or not to reduce the upper 24-week time limit for a legal abortion in Britain.

Last night they voted to allow the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos for medical research.

Around 200,000 legal abortions are carried out on women in Britain each year. At least 5,000 of those women give addresses in Ireland.

AdvertisementThis evening MPs will vote on a series of amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which could reduce the legal limit at which an abortion could take place from 24 weeks to 22, 20 or even 16 weeks.

Much of the debate so far has centred on whether or not advances in medical science since abortion was first legalised in Britain 40 years ago have improved the viability of a foetus outside the womb below 24 weeks.

The issue is particularly controversial and MPs will be allowed to vote according to their consciences rather than along party lines.

The outcome is expected to be close.

FPA UK: MPs Must Stop The Campaign To End Abortion In Britain

MPs Must Stop The Campaign To End Abortion In Britain, Says fpa, UK
20 May 2008

Speaking ahead of the parliamentary vote on abortion taking place on Tuesday 20th May, Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, fpa said:

"If the time limit is reduced on Tuesday, abortion law in Britain will have reached the historic moment when it's cut loose from common consensus and medical opinion. MPs thinking of voting to cut the time limit to under 24 weeks must know they will be supporting a campaign whose end goal is to make abortion illegal in Britain. This path is already well - travelled in the USA, where more and more restrictions to abortion are enforced."

"A change in the 24 week time limit, will not just affect women in Britain, women in Northern Ireland denied access to abortion in their own country will be affected too. Women like Mary, whose real story is highlighted below, will have no choice but to face the trauma of giving birth to a baby that will only live a few minutes. The only outcome of a cut in the limit will be that the number of women across Britain and Northern Ireland forced into giving birth, will be greater than the number of babies surviving at 23 weeks."

Case study from fpa in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Mary's story

At a routine 20 week scan in a hospital in Northern Ireland, Mary and Chris' much-wanted baby was diagnosed with severe fetal abnormalities. The hospital told Mary that because all the staff are conscientious objectors, they would refuse to give her an abortion. Instead, they referred Mary to a hospital in another Northern Ireland city.

Following advanced diagnostic tests it became plain the baby was severely disabled and wouldn't live to make it out of the delivery room. The second city hospital also refused to give Mary an abortion - she was a referral they told her - and not their patient.

The midwife gave Mary fpa's number. Mary phoned fpa from a public phone box in the hospital corridor hysterical, distressed and completely isolated. After counselling, she decided to pay £2,000 for her and Chris to travel to London and pay for a private abortion. When she had her abortion, she was 23 weeks pregnant.

BBC NEWS: MPs To Vote on Abortion Limit Cut

MPs to vote on abortion limit cut

Two abortion experts explain their views

MPs are to vote on the emotive issue of cutting the abortion time limit on the second day of debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

On Monday night a cross-party attempt to ban hybrid human animal embryos was defeated on a free vote, by 336 to 176.

MPs will now debate the abortion laws and decide on changes in a free vote.

An amendment to the government's bill has been put forward to reduce the upper time limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or less.

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo insists there is no evidence requiring the abortion laws to be changed.

She told BBC News: "There is no science that shows us that the survival rates have changed since we took the decision to have the time limit at 24 weeks."


Under 9 weeks: 54.9%

9-12 weeks: 34.3%

13-19 weeks: 9.2%

20-24 weeks: 1.5%

ONS figures from 2006

She also said the government wanted to protect the right of women to choose.

However, David Jones, a professor of bio-ethics, said research on the survival rates for extremely premature babies was "disputed".

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who put forward the amendment to change the abortion laws, said she believed the right of a woman to choose had its limits.

She said: "If a baby feels pain as part of a barbaric abortion process - which is what happens post-20 weeks - and if we know that baby could live if it was allowed to be born, then there comes the point when that baby has rights which are of equal parity to the mother's."

'Difficult matter'

Conservative leader David Cameron told GMTV earlier he would vote to lower the limit to 22 weeks but added, as an issue of conscience, he expected Conservatives to vote "in all sorts of different directions".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC he would vote to maintain the current limit. He said it was a "very difficult matter" but that the medical evidence had not changed.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is also expected to vote against any reduction.

We are expecting considerable support and believe the government could be defeated
Ian Lucas
Pro-Life campaign

Government figures show that 193,737 women in England and Wales had an abortion in 2006.

Previous attempts to force a vote on lowering the abortion limit have been defeated, but as there is a free vote on the issue, an unknown number of MPs may choose to stay away, or abstain.

That increases the chances of those campaigning to lower the limit to 20 or 22 weeks, who claim to have the backing of 200 MPs.

Need for father

Ian Lucas, the campaign manager of the Pro-Life Group, said: "We are expecting considerable support and believe the government could be defeated."

Before the abortion limit vote, MPs will debate and vote on the role of fathers in IVF.

Existing legislation requires IVF clinics to consider the "welfare" of any child created, which currently means considering the need for a father.

HAVE YOUR SAY This is about a woman having the right to choose what happens to her body Leana, Shropshire

However, the new bill says this should no longer be the case, saying instead there needs to be evidence of "supportive parenting".

On Monday night a cross-party attempt to ban hybrid animal embryos was defeated.

Roman Catholic cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy voted for a ban, while Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron both opposed it.

And a bid to ban "saviour siblings" was voted down by 342 votes to 163.

The votes followed two impassioned debates in the committee stage of the bill, aimed at updating laws from 1990 in line with scientific advances.

Story from BBC NEWS

Abortion Limit in Balance as Divide Deepens

This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday May 18 2008
By Robin McKie and Denis Campbell

A group of MPs is seeking to cut the current abortion time limit of 24 weeks.

Kate Guthrie lacks no experience in dealing with abortion. For two days a week, the consultant gynaecologist talks to pregnant women. Many are frightened by their condition and each highly-charged appointment takes a considerable amount of her time.

On two other days, Guthrie performs abortions on those women who elect to end their pregnancies. Those who are less than nine weeks' pregnant are given the abortion pill, while those between nine and 14 weeks attend Hull Royal Infirmary - where Guthrie is based - as day patients for a termination. Those beyond 14 weeks are referred to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which performs later terminations on women up to 24 weeks pregnant. In 2006, a total of 911 women in Hull had abortions in one of these three ways.

'Women of all ages and social classes end up needing an abortion,' Guthrie says. 'In Hull, girls of 14 and women of 47 have had them. An abortion is the net result of something that's gone wrong. That could be a woman's contraception failing or because they've had unprotected sex, sometimes as a result of risky behaviour after alcohol or drugs have reduced their inhibitions, or because they've been coerced into sex by a man. Men have a part to play in this as well. Women say "Will you wear a condom?", and some men say no and cajole the woman into having unprotected sex.'

Such stories are repeated across Britain every year. In England and Wales in 2006 a total of 193,700 abortions were carried out, against 186,400 in 2005. Some politicians and religious groups believe this is unacceptable and say it is time to put a stop to such increases.

As a result, parliament will this week debate a series of amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which are aimed at reducing the number of abortions carried out in Britain. This would be done by cutting the current abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 22, 20, 18, 16 or 12, according to each amendment. Most analysts expect the 22-week option has the best chance of success. By making it more difficult to have late abortions, figures will drop, they argue.

'We have reached the point where we need to pull back on abortion,' says Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. 'If we don't, we will overtake America in a couple of years, making us the abortion capital of the world.'

The argument is also based on the viability of foetuses around the 24-week period. Science has made great strides in improving the age at which premature babies can be kept alive, from 28 to 24 weeks over the past 20 years. These advances are used by campaigners to argue that abortion times should be cut. Society should not terminate foetuses at ages when they can be kept alive outside the womb. And as medicine progresses, and foetuses are kept alive at lower ages, abortion limits should be dropped even further, it is argued.

It is not a view shared by the scientific community, however. Research shows that 24-week viability limit has not changed in recent years. While 67 per cent of babies born at 25 weeks survive to go home from neo-natal unites, only 26 per cent survive if born at 23 weeks. Scientists have reached a limit below which they cannot keep a baby alive and ensure it has an unimpaired life. Nor is this limit likely to improve.

In addition, doctors are horrified by the prospect that the HFE bill is to be used as the means to reduce abortion time limits in Britain. 'People think abortions are what little girls or feckless women have, and that's just not true,' says Guthrie. 'For some women their circumstances are such that the only solution for them, after heart-searching, is to turn to abortion. To patronise women this way is treating them as if they are not capable of self-determination and decision-making, which is not credible in Western society today.'

Doctors point out that many women only discover their unborn baby suffers from a serious congenital condition when they go for their second ultrasound scan at 20 weeks. At present they still have four weeks before reaching the abortion time limit and have time to talk to experts and their partners before making a decision about termination. Cut the limit, as some MPs wish, and that option will disappear.

It is a point demonstrated by freelance journalist Karen Dugdale, who discovered in 1999 - when she was 20 weeks pregnant - that her baby had spina bifida. 'I was told that, at best, our child would have a range of handicaps that would restrict mobility and cause ongoing bladder and bowel problems, and at worst the outcome would be paralysis and permanent brain damage. In this instance, the chances of survival beyond early childhood would be slim and quality of life seriously impaired.'

Karen elected to have an abortion, a decision that caused her heartache but which she still feels was correct. 'No woman would ever want a late abortion,' she says. 'But it is our choice and it would be fundamentally wrong of parliament to take away that right for a few, often very desperate, cases each year. It would show society was regressing.'

Her views are backed by statistics. In 2006, 89 per cent of abortions were carried out on women who were less than 13 weeks pregnant. By contrast, only 1.45 per cent were carried out on women more than 20 weeks pregnant. Yet it is the latter group who will be affected by the proposed time limit changes, not the former. So the prospects of cutting abortion numbers will be very limited.

More to the point, women in the late stages of pregnancy are the most vulnerable of all those who might want an abortion. Apart from the women whose scans reveal abnormalities missed by previous investigations, they include many other heartbreaking examples, as revealed by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: the teenager who reacted to pregnancy by going into denial; the woman who discovered, late in pregnancy, that her partner was abusing her other daughters; the drug addict on methadone, which stops periods so prevented her from realising that she was pregnant; and the woman who continued to have period-like bleeds throughout her pregnancy.

In each case, termination was available. But will they be allowed it after this week's vote? Will MPs change the limit? Most observers expect it to hold, though some say there is a real risk that it could be reduced to 22 weeks. That alteration might seem relatively unimportant, but it would still cause havoc and misery, says the BPAS. 'Changes in current legislation would cause anguish for a lot of vulnerable women,' said a spokesman.

This view is supported by Jennie, who runs her own business and became pregnant not long after the break-up of her first marriage. 'I thought I couldn't have children,' she recalls. 'I had also been on the pill for a long time and my periods were disrupted. I had no way of knowing that my period was late.'

Jennie (not her real name) then had a brief relationship. 'It broke up in October, but I only realised I was pregnant in late January. It was the worst possible nightmare.' By the time she could have an abortion, she was more than 20 weeks pregnant. She was selling her house and would not have been able to hold down a job if she had had the child. She chose an abortion. 'It was not an easy decision, but I don't regret it. A lot of very remarkable people, including David Steel [now Lord Steel, architect of the 1967 Abortion Act], made it possible for me to have that abortion. Now these MPs want to take that right away from other women in my position. That would be utterly appalling.'

For their part, anti-abortion campaigners insist there must be a slowing down of abortion rates. 'I think the staggering number of abortions in Britain is something that must be looked at,' says Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith. There is a deep malaise in society, he argues, a casual disregard for the sanctity of life and the importance of family life. 'I think the real debate now is whether you curtail time limits on abortion.'

In a speech last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said: 'The pregnant woman who smokes or drinks heavily is widely regarded as guilty of infringing the rights of her unborn child. Yet at the same time, with no apparent sense of incongruity, there is discussion of the possibility of the liberty of the pregnant woman herself to perform the actions that will terminate a pregnancy.'

But the idea that women choose abortion as an easy option is dismissed by pregnancy advisers. 'Some women say they are looking forward to a sense of relief and to being able to move on after an abortion, but others worry that they'll feel guilt, resentment, anger or regret,' says Julia Tuckey, a counsellor with the 24/7 free telephone advice line run by Marie Stopes International. 'For some women it can feel like grief or a bereavement. It's a very difficult decision that's fraught with emotion.'

In a typical five-hour shift Tuckey talks to up to eight women. At least one is usually under 16, while her caseload often includes a woman whose pregnancy has revealed her partner to be unsupportive or, worse, violent. She also counsels women who either already have children and were not planning any more, or have to consider a wider range of factors and people than a single or childless woman. Abortion dilemmas are rarely straightforward.

Sometimes a partner is supportive; sometimes not. Some parents give their daughter their backing, others throw them out. 'Last week I had two girls, both under 16, both of whose parents decided to support them whatever they chose to do. One had an abortion and one's having the baby,' said Tuckey.

The danger of changing the law, says legal expert Professor Emily Jackson, of the London School of Economics, is that women denied abortions in their own country would simply go overseas to get them. 'That would only be an option for the well-off, of course,' she added. 'For women who couldn't afford that, those who are on drugs, for example, that would not be possible. Then we would have to face the prospect that these women would try to do something themselves to halt their pregnancies.'

It is a point backed by Jennie: 'There would be a real danger we would return to the days of back-street abortionists and women bleeding terribly, alone and frightened, in a flat somewhere. I'd hate us to return to those days.'

Abortion Rights Protest- Don't Turn The Clock Back On Women's Rights

Tuesday 20th May 2008
Protest: from 5.30pm, Old Palace Yard, opposite St Stephen s Entrance

Supporters of women s abortion rights will be saying don t turn the clock back on women s rights outside parliament as MPs vote on time limit

On Tuesday, MPs will debate and vote on anti-abortion amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill. Ahead of the crucial debate starting at 7pm, supporters of women s abortion rights will be protesting outside Parliament from 5.30pm to show the broad opposition to any reduction in the abortion time limit. On 12 May, a Guardian survey showed a majority of MPs support the current 24 weeks limit. For a briefing on the anti-abortion amendments tabled please visit

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: Defend 24 weeks: don t turn the clock back on women s rights There will be a photo opportunity at 5.30pm with MPs, trade unionists, student leaders, and representatives from the medical profession surrounding a banner defend 24 weeks and holding a large artworked clock, to make the point don t turn back the clock on women s rights .

INTERVIEWS: Individual interviews with spokespeople for the campaign, those attending the photo opportunity, and women who have needed later abortion are available by request in advance via the organisers.

Contact: Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Coordinator 07904 709 160

Ahead of the vote, key supporters of the current abortion rights said:

Jo Brand, the comedian said:
"This time limit argument is a total red herring. It s the same old anti-abortionists with their anti-women agenda, making up the science as they go along. MPs should have no truck with it."

Christine McCafferty, Labour MP said:
"There has been no significant improvement in the survival of babies born before 24 weeks gestation over the last 12 years, despite medical advances. If the current limit were reduced, it would have an adverse impact on the very small number of women or girls, who do seek late abortions."

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP said:
There has been a campaign of misinformation, assertion and irrelevant information about the abortion time limit led by very well funded organisations opposed to all abortion. Sadly, the evidence shows that it simply isn t the case that wanted babies born below 24 weeks are more likely to survive. It is a cruel deception on parents with pre-term babies. It would be astonishing if Parliament took a view against the united approach of all the relevant medical institutions.

Robert Key, Conservative MP said:
I am a member of the general synod of the Church of England. A recent Church of England briefing to MPs said that any support for campaigns to change the abortion law would be on the proviso that such measures were evidence based. I am yet to be convinced that lowering from 24 weeks would significantly reduce the abortion rate and I believe there are alternative answers. I think the answer is a massive advance in responsible sex education."

Julie Bentley, Chief Executive fpa (Family Planning Association) said:
The few women who need later abortion are the hardest cases very vulnerable women in incredibly difficult circumstances. Some women don t recognise the symptoms of pregnancy, sometimes because of poor sex education they believe the myths, like you can t get pregnant if you re a virgin. People don t make these decisions lightly and women do need the time to make that decision.

Wendy Savage, Doctors for A Woman s Choice on Abortion said:
As one of the few doctors who has performed later abortion in Britain, I know how difficult the cases are. In one case, after 1990, I had a call from A and E about a young 17 year old, 26 weeks pregnant who had been held captive as a domestic worker, raped by her boss and was going to kill herself if her pregnancy wasn t ended. I hope that right, logic and evidence will prevail amongst MPs.

Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Campaign Coordinator said:
Nadine Dorries MP s crusade to turn back the clock on women s reproductive rights shows an appalling disregard for women and the difficult circumstances that they sometimes face. Lowering the time limit would be devastating for this small number of women and force some to continue with a pregnancy against their will causing long term psychological and physical harm, others will travel abroad for a later abortion if they can afford to and others, will risk a dangerous illegal back-street option. MPs need to understand that women will be watching very carefully how MPs vote on Tuesday. We are protesting to make sure women s voices are heard loud and clear to defend 24 weeks.

Contact: Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Coordinator 07904 709 160


Women s testimonies: 19 year old Janet, 21 weeks: I was 19, my father had died and I was looking after my 8 siblings with my mother who could barely afford to keep us. I couldn t face telling my mum about my pregnancy things were so difficult. If I couldn t have an abortion, I would have killed myself. Now I have been able to go to college, learn to read and write, play a full role in society and bring up a family of my own .

17 year old Kate, 21 weeks: I had been taking the pill. When I had a missed period, I went straight to my doctor for a pregnancy test. It came back negative. I was still missing periods. I returned to my doctor who said I had nothing to worry about. A short while later I met someone who had had a child after finding out too late that she was pregnant to have an abortion. I did another test, which came back positive. It took a further two and a half weeks before I could have an abortion. It was the right thing for me I never regretted it.

Claire, Nottingham: With my son, I wanted an abortion and I was refused by my GP several times until it was too late and I could not afford to go private. I was forced to do something I did not want to and it ruined my life. Why ruin the child s life too by having it born to a mother and a father that did not want it?

1) Women need later abortion: The time limit for abortion is currently up to 24 weeks (except in exceptional circumstances). Less than 2% of all abortions take place after 20 weeks gestation; these are needed by women in difficult and individual circumstances including women who did not know they were pregnant until later because they did not have the normal signs of pregnancy or thought they couldn t be pregnant women using contraception, young and pre-menopausal; women who have a wanted pregnancy but face catastrophic life events such as domestic violence or loss of a partner; women who have been delayed by the NHS.
2) Medical Opinion opposed to lowering of time limit: In light of recent coverage on the issue of extremely preterm infants survival, specifically below 24 weeks gestation, the shared view of the British Medical Association (BMA), the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is that:
there is no evidence of a significant improvement in the survival of preterm infants below 24 weeks gestation, in the UK, in the last 18 years. The major development since 1990 has been an improvement in the survival of babies born at 24 weeks and over, but not below this gestation .
The view that survival rates below 24 weeks gestation have not significantly improved is shared with the House of Commons former Science and Technology Committee.

3) Broad support for maintaining the current 24-week limit: including by all the major relevant medical bodies - the BMA, the RCN, fpa (Family Planning Association), RCOG, the Royal College of Paediatricians, the British Association of Perinatal Medicine and Antenatal Results and Choices the main charity supporting women facing the prospect of later terminations, the TUC, National Union of Students and Fawcett Society.

4) Abortion Rights, the national pro-choice campaign, is campaigning to defend women s current abortion rights involving thousands of supporters across Britain, MPs, medical professionals, trade union, student and women s groups. Abortion Rights believes the abortion law should be strengthened, not weakened. For details please visit

Kenny Calls For Clarification By Catholic Church

The Irish Times Tuesday May 20th 2008

· Kenny calls for clarification by Catholic Church

ABORTION: FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny has called on the Catholic Church to clarify claims from some Catholic groups that implementation of the Lisbon Treaty would pave the way for the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

Mr Kenny was speaking in Athlone yesterday at the launching of his party's Ireland West campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum on the treaty.

Referring to material appearing in the Catholic newspaper Alive, he said: "As a Catholic and a father of three young children, I have been offended by these articles, and many elderly people have communicated their concern and confusion about this matter to me.

"Our Constitution is quite explicit in its protection of the unborn. I do think clarification is necessary from the Catholic hierarchy that these articles do not represent the official church position."

Mr Kenny told reporters that he had been "heartened" by recent opinion poll findings which showed an increase in support for the treaty and he welcomed the launching of the Governments own campaign.

He said "complacency and confusion" were the main challenges facing the Yes campaign.

The case for the treaty came down to two fundamental issues: firstly, the series of challenges facing Europe in the coming years in the areas of climate change, poverty, terrorism and the economy; and secondly the opportunities available to Ireland in the future.

Move to Extend Abortion Provision to North Withdrawn

· Move to extend abortion provision to North withdrawn
DAN KEENAN, Northern News Editor, The Irish Times.

AN AMENDMENT to controversial legislation aimed at extending abortion provision to Northern Ireland has been withdrawn at Westminster.

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris had tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently being debated in the Commons.

The measure would have extended the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland where there is no legislative provision for abortion.

The withdrawal of the amendment was welcomed yesterday by the Association of Catholic Lawyers of Ireland. Barrister Johanna Higgins said: “I am delighted to see that the pro-abortion lobby in Westminster has backed off from its threat to try and get the Abortion Act extended to the North of Ireland, which would have meant, among other things, the legalisation of abortion to full term for disabled babies.”

All four main political parties in Stormont, at the request of the all-party Pro-Life Group, co-signed a letter which was sent to all Westminster politicians opposing plans to extend the Abortion Act.

On Friday, the leaders of the four main churches in Ireland wrote to each Westminster MP calling for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be given primacy on the question of abortion legislation.

There is a strong anti-abortion majority at Stormont.

Leading anti-abortion groups also co-signed a letter which was sent to all politicians in Britain opposing the plans to extend the Act.

The move was criticised by the Alliance For Change, a pressure group seeking abortion legislation for Northern Ireland; by the Family Planning Association and by the editorially independent Church of Ireland Gazette. It argued that church leaders should not press legislators on how to vote on any issue.

New Survey of British Women's Attitudes to Abortion Published Today

New survey of British women’s attitudes to abortion published today

Sixty-one per cent of British women of child bearing age say there are circumstances in which they think a woman should have the right to access an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks.

When presented with a list of potential circumstances (see below), six out of 10 (61%) British women aged 18-49 say there are certain situations in which they think a woman should have the right to access an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks, according to findings from an independent survey carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Marie Stopes International.

The potential circumstances listed were:

The foetus is diagnosed with severe abnormalities
She was raped
The pregnancy places her own health at risk
She has an abusive partner
She was delayed by her doctor
She did not realised earlier that she was pregnant
She is young and has been in denial of pregnancy signs
Her partner has left her during the pregnancy

Only four percent of respondents both supported a woman’s right of access to an abortion yet also felt there were no grounds for abortion between 20 and 24 weeks: An outcome unlikely to be welcomed by those – including Nadine Dorries, MP - who seek to remove the right to abortion between 20 and 24 weeks under any circumstances.

19% answered that they disagreed that, in general, all women should have the right of access to an abortion, 57% agreed and 24% were neutral, or answered that they did not know or preferred not to answer.

The survey of 1,032 British women is released to coincide with today’s vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Commons, which includes a number of amendments seeking to reduce the limit for abortions from 24 weeks to as low as 12 weeks.

Marie Stopes International strongly urges MPs to give their full support to British women and vote to retain the 24 week limit for abortion when they cast their free vote on the amendments later today.

“The danger is that some MPs may abstain, rather than engage in this difficult and emotive issue,” said Anne Quesney, Head of Advocacy at Marie Stopes International, the UK’s largest independent provider of abortion services.

“But an abstention is tantamount to a vote for a reduction, which will deny some of the most vulnerable women access to a desperately needed service.

“Later abortions are extremely rare, less than two per cent of the total. As a society we should be supporting women through this difficult time, rather than forcing them into motherhood against their will, making them seek out illegal or unsafe practices or travel abroad to access later abortion services.

“The entire medical establishment and all recent scientific and medical research have endorsed the call to retain the 24 week limit on abortion. Now we have a similar clear endorsement from those who will be most adversely affected by any reduction in the limit – women themselves.”

Catholics Call on MPs to Retain Current Time Limit on Abortion

Catholics Call on MPs to Retain Current Time Limit on Abortion
"British Catholics do not agree with the bishops on abortion"

London-In considering how to vote in the debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien called on MPs to oppose any attempts to reduce the time limit at which abortions may be performed. Addressing Catholic MPs, who may feel pressured by the Catholic hierarchy to vote to restrict access to abortion, Mr. O'Brien urged them to remember that Catholic teaching about the primacy of conscience holds that an individual must follow his or her conscience-even if it is in conflict with church teaching. In addition, O'Brien noted that Catholic teaching on conscience requires at least tolerance if not respect for other people's decisions.

In a statement, Mr. O'Brien said, "All parliamentarians, Catholic or not, are free to follow their own consciences, and to support policies that allow all people to make informed, conscientious decisions about their lives and their families."

In a letter from Mr. O'Brien to Members of Parliament, he wrote,

"Polls of Catholics around the world show that the bishops represent a minority view among Catholics on reproductive health matters. Last November, a CFC poll by YouGov showed that a plurality of British Catholics do not agree with the bishops on abortion. A third more Catholics agreed than disagreed with the statements: 'It should be legal for a woman to have an abortion when she has an unwanted pregnancy' and 'Catholic bishops concentrate too much of their attention on abortion when there are other issues that also require their attention.' Similarly, recent CFC polls in the United States, Mexico and Bolivia have found that majorities of Catholics support a woman's right to access abortion, as do other polls of Catholics in Canada, France, Germany and Spain."

A weighted, representative poll of UK faith groups taken by YouGov for Catholics for Choice in November 2007 showed definitive support for a woman's right to have an abortion in cases of unwanted pregnancy.

Mr. O'Brien said the results of the poll "demonstrate that British people, of all faiths and none, trust women and families to make their own decisions when it comes to the choice to terminate a pregnancy or bring a child into the world. Despite what the Catholic hierarchy would like the public to believe, a plurality of British Catholics has chosen to ignore their divisive rhetoric, and instead follow their consciences when it comes to supporting access to abortion. They aren't looking for bishops to lecture them, or for politicians to tie people's hands."

He continued, "Catholic theologians have disagreed from the beginning of church history on when in pregnancy the foetus becomes a person. While the church has favoured different opinions on this subject at different times in history, none has ever been declared infallible."

Catholic theologian Sheila Briggs concurred. "The Catholic hierarchy in recent decades has never allowed a free theological debate on abortion and has punished those Catholic theologians who have dissented from the official teaching. The hierarchy's teaching on abortion is theologically unsafe because it rests on coercion and not on a consensus emerging from the use of sound moral reason."

Jon O'Brien cited two reasons to leave the time limit for abortion at 24 weeks:

The potentially deleterious impact on women's health that would result from a reduction in the time limit.

The lack of scientific data to indicate such a reduction is necessary or would be beneficial.

"Neither the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists nor the British Medical Association believes that a case can be made for reducing the time limit for abortion. Parliament should respect those views in considering this important matter," he concluded.

[All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,983 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th and 16th November 2007. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults aged 18+.]


Catholics for Choice (CFC) shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make decisions about their lives. Through discourse, education, and advocacy, CFC works in the US and internationally to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis and Catholic social thinking and teaching.

Law Change Would Affect Irish Seeking Abortions

Sunday Business Post

Sunday May 18th 2008

o Law change would affect Irish seeking abortions
by Susan Mitchell

Proposals to reform abortion laws in Britain could have major repercussions for the more than 6,000 Irish women who travel to Britain for terminations each year, according to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA).

An alliance of pro-life MPs, traditionalists and Catholic backbenchers want to reduce the time limit at which it is legal to have an abortion from 24 to 22weeks or less. Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA, said that any reduction in the time limit would have the greatest impact on women carrying foetuses with severe or fatal abnormalities.

Behan said that most women who decided to terminate their pregnancies did so before 20 weeks gestation, but that severe and fatal foetal abnormalities were often not detected until 18 or 19weeks into a pregnancy.

‘‘In those circumstances, women often have a further scan or a check to look at the options that may be available,’’ Behan said.

‘‘Any reduction in the time limit would only give a woman, or indeed a couple, a one-week window to make a decision. More time is needed under those circumstances and I would have grave fears that decisions would be rushed.”

Behan said that asylum seekers living in Ireland could also be affected, as he had come across a number of cases in which asylum seekers had difficulties securing papers to travel to Britain, meaning that they also presented relatively late for a termination.

Anti-abortion activists argue that Britain has an excessively late cut-off point for abortion. Two-thirds of EU countries have a time limit lower than the British one, with some banning abortion after 12 weeks’ gestation.

Abortion reform forms part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is due to be discussed in detail by British politicians tomorrow and Tuesday.

Those MPs in favour of restricting abortion are planning to table amendments that would fix the time limit at anything between 13 and 22 weeks. Pro-life MPs will also attempt to introduce ‘‘informed consent’’ legislation, which has been implemented in 26 other countries around the world. This means that women seeking a termination would be advised to reflect on their decision and given information about the potential risks.

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has said that he will vote against any proposals to reduce the 24-week limit.

However, Brown has been forced to grant a free vote on many of the measures, after being faced with a rebellion by dozens of MPs and at least three cabinet members. That means they do not have to vote in accordance with party lines.

The bill also includes measures that will allow the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos and the use of embryo screening to produce so-called ‘saviour siblings’.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

VOICE FOR CHOICE- the coalition to defend and extend women's choice on abortion Letter to Members of British Parliament

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.

Yours sincerely,

Marge Berer
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

Abortion Review Update

Thursday 15 May 2008

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MPs will vote on amendments to the legal gestational limit for abortion on Tuesday 20 May, as part of the discussion on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. A case-note analysis of all women requesting abortion at BPAS clinics between 22 and 24 weeks' gestation provides compelling evidence for retaining the 24-week time limit.

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Tory MP Nadine Dorries has unveiled 20 reasons why the upper time limit for abortion should be lowered to 20 weeks' gestation. Jennie Bristow, editor of Abortion Review, gives 24 reasons why it should stay as it is.

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A reduction in the legal limit for abortion from 24 weeks would give false hope to the parents of severely premature infants, the Health Minister has
told The Times (London).

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Survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks are extremely low and getting no better in spite of medical advances, according to an authoritative study in the British Medical Journal.

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Responding to research showing no improvement in fetal viability, the British Medical Association argues that there is 'no scientific justification' for lowering the 24-week limit.

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A consultation is to be launched over whether to relax rules on the settings where Early Medical Abortion can be carried out, ministers say.

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'The Future of Abortion: Controversies and Care' is a major international conference on the latest abortion and contraception policy and best practice issues, held at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, Central London,
25-26 June 2008.

For more information, and to book your place, please visit the conference

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- 7. 1967 ABORTION ACT

For news relating to the British abortion law, and the progress of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, see Abortion Review's dedicated section on the 1967 Abortion Act:

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To see what's new in the medical press, visit Abortion Review's 'Medical Update' section:

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Abortion Review is a journal produced for BPAS, the leading provider of abortion services in the UK.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

IFPA welcome Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Report on Europe

Statement by the Irish Family Planning Association

The IFPA welcomes Commissioner for Human Rights comments on abortion
- Release date : 30th April 2008

In his report published today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended that the Irish Government clarify the circumstances in which abortions can legally be carried out in Ireland. He recommends that this done through statutory law in line with domestic jurisprudence.

Reacting to this an IFPA Spokesperson said, “The Commissioner is the latest in a long line of human rights experts to call for a clarification of the legal status of abortion in Ireland. Irish abortion laws needlessly puts the health and well being of thousands of Irish women at risk. A change in our abortion laws are well over due”.

The IFPA believes that safe and legal abortion services should be available in Ireland.



Invited by the Irish Government, Mr Thomas Hammarberg the EC Commissioner for Human Rights conducted an official visit to Ireland from 26th to 30th November 2007. His report identifies opportunities for improving the protection and promotion of human rights in Ireland.

The text of his report is available at

Excerpts relating to abortion:

78. In relation to sexual and reproductive rights, it should be noted that since 1983 under the Irish Constitution the “right of the unborn” is guaranteed “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”. No legal definition or case law exists as to whether the "unborn" refers to the foetus at the point of viability, from the moment of conception or at some other point during pregnancy. Since the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X case, abortion is legal if the life of the woman is in danger. However, despite criticism of the constitutional provision in the judgement, there is still no legislation in place implementing the judgment and, consequently, no legal certainty when a physician may legally perform a life-saving abortion. In practice, abortion is largely unavailable in Ireland in almost all circumstances. Some NGOs argue that the legal limbo leads to a situation which disproportionately favours the interest of the foetus over the rights of pregnant women, thereby jeopardising women’s health and well-being and resulting in abortions performed illegally or abroad.During the visit, the Irish authorities informed the Commissioner that there were currently no plans to legislate for abortion on the grounds of the ‘X’ case.

79. Some civil society representatives advocate that access to abortion services should be granted to all women in the country, particularly when a woman's health is at risk, she is pregnant as a result of rape or incest or there is evidence of severe foetal anomaly. There have also been calls to hold a referendum to offer the voters an opportunity to remove from the Constitution the 1983 Amendment and to clarify the language with regard to the ‘unborn’. Moreover, NGOs have underlined that certain vulnerable women, especially young and migrant women, have particular difficulties in accessing abortion services abroad. These concerns are illustrated by the case of 17 year-old Miss D from April 2007. When Miss D, who was placed in the care of the state by virtue of an interim care order, learned that she was carrying an anencephalic foetus, a fatal condition whereby a large part of the skull and the brain is missing, she wished to terminate her pregnancy but was prevented from travelling until a High Court decision allowed her to leave the country.

80. The Commissioner is concerned that despite the already existing case law allowing for abortion under limited circumstances, no legislation is in place to ensure this happening in practice. This leads to serious consequences in each individual case but especially in such cases in which vulnerable women such as minors and migrants are concerned. In this context, he recalls the European Court’s judgment against Poland in which a violation of Article 8, the effective respect for private life, was found due to defective domestic abortion legislation. He urges the Irish authorities and the legislator to ensure that legislation is enacted to resolve this problem and that adequate medical services are provided in Ireland to carry out legal abortions in line with the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.


19. Clarify the scope of legal abortions through statutory law in line with domestic jurisprudence and provide for adequate services for carrying out such abortions in Ireland.

Response of the Irish Government

The Government is satisfied that any medical treatment necessary to safeguard a woman’s life during pregnancy is available in Ireland. It has no plans to bring forward further constitutional or legislative proposals in relation to abortion.