New Clause 1 — Amendment of the law relating to abortion

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 20th May 2008.

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Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport 8:45 pm, 20th May 2008

I have discussed clinically troubled pregnancies, and I presume that that covers the maternal factor. I see no reason why the Committee must use the same definition as clinicians.

The moral reality is that someone who aborts a baby at 22 weeks, might be—they cannot know that this is not the case—aborting a baby or foetus that is viable, within the narrow meaning of the legislation, which is indisputably the case, or in any other sense. There are people in our world who are in no way inferior to us in capacity, intelligence and beauty, despite being born at 22 weeks. That is a fact, and it ought to give us cause for reflection.

Quantitatively, as the EPICure 2 study shows—the Minister and I saw the draft findings last week—there is a statistically significant increase in the survival rate of premature babies at 24 weeks and an increase, although not a statistically significant one, in respect of 23 weeks. We need to explore further exactly why that is happening. It is false to say that no new evidence is available. EPICure 2 differs markedly from the Trent study; it is more widely based and it shows something different. I freely admit that the EPICure 2 study does not show a decrease in the level of disabilities that, sadly, premature babies endure. However, morality in this case is not a numbers game; the exact percentage surviving is not the big issue. One cannot easily argue on Monday that the percentage mix of a human-animal embryo is of no decisive moral significance, and then on Tuesday argue that percentages matter.

May I conclude by addressing three counter-arguments? I sense—this came across in what the Minister said—that many who are opposed to even modest reform feel obliged to hold an imaginary line; they feel that if they concede 23 weeks or 22 weeks, who knows where the case for abortion may go. The Minister said that we could be right back at the pre-1967 situation. Again, that is the mirror image of the slippery slope argument that we had yesterday: if we allow pointless experiments to be carried out on hybrid embryos until 14 days, some scientists will make progress in creating human-animal embryos. As in yesterday's case, all one can say is that the law says what the law says. It clearly does not follow from the fact that the law forbids something at 25 weeks that it is bound to forbid it at 23, 22 or 20 weeks. If it forbids something at 22 weeks, it might still allow it to happen at 20 weeks.

Another argument was made on Second Reading by Mrs. Lait, and I take it very seriously. She argued that many, but by no means all, late abortions are special cases; I believe that she mentioned under-age girls, menopausal women and foetuses with late-detected abnormalities. I think that the statistics show that 40 per cent. of such cases result, in a sense, from late choices. That is what is odd about them; they involve people who made a late choice to have an abortion.

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