Thursday, 25 October 2007

Abortion laws

My Bristol colleague, Dawn Primarolo MP, gave evidence to a Select Committee today about a possible review of the abortion laws, saying that the Government was not persuaded of the need to reduce the 24 week time limit on abortions.

I've had a few letters about this issue recently, as the Human Tissue and Embryology Bill is coming before the House soon and there's the possibility someone might put in some amendments on abortion. I've also had emails from pro- and anti-abortion groups, and at least one of the Sunday newspapers is trying to poll MPs on the issue. Plus there was today's news that David Steel, who steered the 1967 laws through Parliament as a young MP, had reportedly said there are too many abortions today.

Actually, on reading David Steel's remarks, I agree with him. I do know women who have used abortion as back-up contraception on more than one occasion, and I don't think this is a particularly desirable course of action. What received less coverage was Steel's conclusion that he still did not support any further restrictions on abortion, including any reduction of the time limit.

Although it's easy to be swayed by some of the arguments in favour of reducing the 24 time limit, because the survival rates for very premature babies are very much better these days, the fact is, very few abortions are carried out at this late stage - and often that is because serious problems are discovered with the foetus. So I doubt if I'd be voting for a reduction. What I do support is removal of the rule that 2 doctors have to sign off before a woman is allowed a termination, which can in some cases mean a delay in it happening. I don't see why one doctor's opinion shouldn't be sufficient. I am also minded to vote for an amendment that would allow nurses to administer drugs that produce terminations, which is in line with Government policy to treat nurses as the highly-skilled professionals they are. None of this is incompatible with believing that we ought to be trying to reduce the number of abortions carried out in this country - by preventing the unwanted pregnancies occuring in the first place.

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