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)