Abortion Time Limits

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:25 am on 19th July 2005.

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Photo of Jim Dobbin Jim Dobbin Labour, Heywood and Middleton 11:25 am, 19th July 2005

The debate and the demands for a review of the Abortion Act 1967 were stimulated—we cannot get away from this—by the sensational ultrasound pictures presented by Professor Stuart Campbell. I saw Martin Kemp's film "Science in culture: Womb with a view?" to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and heard Professor Campbell, who is eminent in the field, rethink his position on the number of weeks in the abortion limit. Since those pictures were printed by the national press, I have spoken to many colleagues in the House of Commons, who seem to be reviewing their personal positions on the limit. I believe that they would support a proper evidence-based review. That is the aim of the debate. Indeed, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said as much, and Lord Steel has indicated that he believes that changes are required.

For me, the issue is not just about the length of the abortion limit, but about the number of abortions and access to abortion at earlier stages. The pro-life charity, Life, recognises that abortion in the UK is legislated for within the framework of time limits, and it supports a reduction in the upper time limit to save unborn lives. The philosophical flaw in the framework is that it implies that bigger is better—that an unborn child of 24 weeks and one day is worthy of the protection of the law, whereas an unborn child of 23 weeks and six days is not. Where is the logic in that approach? That issue must be considered.

Our primary focus should be to reduce the overall number of abortions. In 2003, there were almost 190,000 abortions. That is 600 every working day. Surely, there must some agreement in this place that too many abortions are being performed in the UK.

What is society's response? Marie Stopes International has been mentioned this morning, as has the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, both of which advocate the liberalisation of abortion law. This weekend it was reported that Marie Stopes International would like to name and shame doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion. Such organisations fail to appreciate that the Abortion Act 1967 does not provide for abortion on demand. A doctor who is faced by a woman seeking abortion is perfectly entitled to determine that, in his or her professional opinion, the conditions set out in the Act have not been met. If Marie Stopes International and BPAS get their way, there is no doubt that the abortion rate will continue to increase.

I would like the Government to consider offering more financial support to organisations such as Life that offer crisis pregnancy counselling. Life has a team of professional counsellors and skilled listeners who provide non-directional pre and post-abortion counselling.