Abortion Time Limits

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:02 pm on 19th July 2005.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health) 12:02 pm, 19th July 2005

I, too, add my congratulations to Dr. Harris on having secured the debate. I also thank him for having sent me an indication as to what he intended to say. I found that very helpful.

No law can deal perfectly with such complex issues, and our present abortion laws are not perfect. However, it is important that, however complex the issue, the law reflects society's view. If it does not, it risks being seen as over-restrictive or morally at fault, and thereby undermining the rule of law in general. Aspects of the current legislation need to be addressed. On serious handicap, the law states that non-emergency abortions should not take place after 24 weeks. We are, however, aware of a recent newsworthy example of a foetus that was aborted after 24 weeks because it had been diagnosed with a cleft lip and palate. Although that condition might be a symptom of a failure of the skull to fuse—and, therefore, a serious handicap under statutory ground (e)—it might also be something as trivial as a harelip. It is vital that the wishes of Parliament are clear. This might, therefore, be the time to issue guidance under the 1967 Act as to what constitutes a serious handicap. To my knowledge, there has never been a definition of that term. I would welcome the Minister's views on that.

As we know, more than 90 per cent. of abortions each year take place on ground (c), a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman. There is a fear that that is a vehicle through which abortion on demand is being secured. If that is the case, we may need to examine whether changes are required to our legislation. Perhaps, like France, Germany, Holland and Russia, we should place abortion on demand in the first trimester on a firm legislative footing, or perhaps statutory ground (c) should be tightened further. Either way, Parliament, in full command of the evidence, should be free to take the decision. It is important that the wishes of Parliament, once decided, be respected. I am not sure that that is the case at the moment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think—