New Clause 1 — Amendment of the law relating to abortion
Orders of the Day
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South, Conservative)
I rise to speak to new clause 9, which seeks to lower to 22 weeks the threshold for terminations. Like my hon. Friend—she is my friend—Mrs. Dorries, I agree with the principle of abortion. I believe that every child should be a wanted child, and I suspect that abortion is a terrifying experience involving trauma and stress for the woman involved. I also believe that even if one is against the principle of abortion, it should be the woman's right to choose.
I invite the Committee to imagine a frightened young woman living in a bedsit somewhere on a housing estate in England who is pregnant, has no friends and has hostile parents. I believe that it is not for MPs to decide that she should be condemned to live with the consequences of that pregnancy for the rest of her life, or, indeed, that the child should be condemned to be an unwanted child. To me, it is for the woman to decide whether or not to have a termination. The issue is the circumstances in which abortion takes place.
I am the first to admit that the current law is far from perfect, but this is not a perfect world. With one exception, on balance, I do not favour either strengthening or liberalising the current law. That exception is the time limit for termination. I appreciate the briefings that have been given by the BMA, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing, which conclude that there is no evidence of a significant improvement in the survival of pre-term infants at below 24 weeks' gestation in the past 18 years. I have no grounds on which to dispute that, and I accept their evidence, but in my judgment that is not the point. The question is whether 24 weeks is the right threshold.
In 1990, the House reduced the threshold from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. If the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is right and the situation is the same now as it was then, I am not sure that I would have supported 24 weeks then.
In reaching the judgment, there are conflicting pressures. I believe that a woman should be given as much time as possible to deal with the huge economic and health pressures to decide whether she wants the child. However, I am concerned that abortions are being carried out after the date of viability.