Abortion limit reduction favoured by Jeremy Hunt

 
woman sitting on bench Department of Health figures show there were 190,000 abortions in England and Wales last year

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he would favour a change in the law to halve the limit on abortions from 24 weeks into a pregnancy to 12.

His comments to the Times came after Women's Minister Maria Miller called for a 20-week limit.

The home secretary said she would also "probably" back a change to 20 weeks but reiterated Number 10's view that there were no plans to change the law.

The remarks have prompted criticism from some pro-choice campaign groups.

A Downing Street spokesman insisted Mr Hunt - who was speaking ahead of the Conservative conference - was expressing purely personal views.

Later Prime Minister David Cameron stressed abortion was an "issue of conscience" and Mr Hunt was "absolutely entitled to hold an individual view".

"But people need to know the government has got no plans to bring forward any legislation in this area and any vote that does happen will be a free vote," he said.

Mr Cameron added he "personally" favoured a "modest reduction" from the current limit of 24 weeks, "because I think there are some medical arguments for that".

"But I don't agree with the 12-week limit and that's not the government's policy," he said.

'Scope for reduction'

The 24 week limit applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except in exceptional medical circumstances, such as when the mother's health is at risk.

There were nearly 190,000 abortions for women in England and Wales last year.

The figures, from the Department of Health, also suggest the vast majority - 91% - were carried out in under 13 weeks.

Welsh Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths, said: "I've read Jeremy Hunt's remarks about reducing the time limit and this is something that I cannot countenance as being in the best interests of women in Wales.

"Should the UK government make any formal proposals to change the law, I will be strongly opposing such a move."

"Women, not the health secretary, are the best judges and the best makers of moral decision"

Mr Hunt told the Times he felt 12 weeks was "the right point".

He said he wants to see a significant reduction in the limit which would prevent almost all abortions past that time.

The new health secretary, who is only a few weeks into his job, said he had reached the conclusion after studying the evidence.

"It is just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start.

"I don't think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons."

Labour shadow public health minister, Diane Abbott, said ministers should not be "playing politics with people's lives".

She said there was a "sustained ideological attack on the science and the rights that British women and families have fought for".

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Home Secretary Theresa May said the government was "right" to take the position it had, reiterating there were "no plans to reduce the abortion limit".

She added: "I think there is some scope for some reduction. My own view is probably a reduction to 20 weeks, but as I say that is a personal view of mine."

The Department of Health also said Mr Hunt had expressed his own opinion and the government's policy on abortion was clear.

'Lack of understanding'

Earlier this week, Ms Miller told the Daily Telegraph the legal abortion limit should be lowered to 20 weeks because care for extremely premature babies had improved.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, vice chairman of a parliamentary pro-life group, also said the limit should be cut.

Start Quote

Abortion is an absolutely key part of women's healthcare - clearly he hasn't looked at the scientific evidence around this ”

End Quote Darinka Aleksic Abortion Rights

"The existing laws on abortion lag well behind recent breakthroughs in science," he said.

Darinka Aleksic, from pressure group Abortion Rights, said it was "absolutely outrageous" that the health secretary wants to "radically restrict access to those services".

"Abortion is an absolutely key part of women's healthcare. Clearly he hasn't looked at the scientific evidence around this at all because there's no medical basis for reducing the abortion time limit," she said.

Professor Wendy Savage, a gynaecologist who has campaigned for years on women's rights, also told the BBC she had been left "speechless" by Mr Hunt's comments.

"It does not bode well that he's the secretary of state for health. What we really should be doing is decriminalising abortion."

Elsewhere, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's Clare Murphy said the remarks reflected "a lack of understanding of why women need later services".

 

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  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 20.

    One wonder what Diane Abbot think the Health Secretary ought to be doing if it's not "playing politics with people's lives". I thought that was his job, no?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 19.

    There are more important which should be discussed on HYS and Mr Hunt's personal opinion is not one of them unless of course this is the fore runner to the Government implenting policies which are based on ministers opinions. Mr Hunt is not an expert in this field nor am I or most of you so we should be guided by the experts and if the limit were to be changed it would be on their advice.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 18.

    @Leap However, as he is the minister in charge of policy on the issue, his decision to state his personal opinion is very much news.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 17.

    I wish Hunt would needlessly court controversy more often.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 16.

    So Mr Hunt goes from being culture secretary to health secretary and now he`s an expert in all things health related. I`m not sure why he thinks his opinion holds such sway, after all it`s no more or less valid than anyone commenting here.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 15.

    This is a can of worms if I've ever seen one.

    This debate has been raged for years, and will continue for a long time. There is no right answer to abortion, just the opinion of the person making the argument.

    Politicians would do well to avoid this kind of publicity.

  • rate this
    +66

    Comment number 14.

    You would have thought after his completely inappropriate comments to and contact with Murdoch the man would have learnt to keep his mouth shut.

    While he is perfectly entitled to his own opinion as health secretary he should have the common sense not to broadcast then especially on such an emotive subject.

    just as he was the wrong man for the culture job, he is the wrong man for Health

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 13.

    hunt wants to keep his nose out of this. its worked well for a long time as it is.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 12.

    The fact that abortion is back in the headlines and that three torys have all made pronouncements on a reduction in the abortion limit is no accident. This is a prelude to a concerted attack on our hard won freedoms and an attempt to impose their ideology on us.

  • rate this
    +196

    Comment number 11.

    So we have a health secretary who doesn't realise that the NHS does it's abnormality scan at 18-20 weeks.

    So in the sorry event that some dreadful illness is picked up you'd be past the date of legal termination.

    Perhaps he should have kept his mouth shut given is new role.

    You again have to question Cameron's judgement on making him health secretary in the first place.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 10.

    i am surprised that anyone would take any notice of diane abbott who has very odd standards.

  • rate this
    -13

    Comment number 9.

    Before screaming and shouting about how awful this is, consider that the limit is 12 weeks in France and Germany and has been for many years.

    There, they have much lower rates of conception and abortion. Is that not a good thing?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 8.

    I think this will have the opposite effect, more mother's will panic and abort their child before the deadline. By leavign it at 24 months at least it gives time for the fear perhaps to abate a little, rather than force a quicker decision whic could be regretted.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 7.

    Its an emotive subject and ministers do not personal opinions in public

  • rate this
    +95

    Comment number 6.

    The science isn't on your side here, Jeremy. This is an attack on women's rights.

  • rate this
    +172

    Comment number 5.

    Whilst I realize this is his opinion, it is worrying because young people who have been abused, or any female who has been raped may often be in denial about the pregnancy until after this point, and they still deserve to have the choice about whether or not to have an abortion. Abortion is a uniquely personal decision & no government should tell its citizens what to do in that situation.

  • rate this
    -38

    Comment number 4.

    I'm ok with this unless it includes the proviso: unless deemed necessary by a doctor.

  • rate this
    +122

    Comment number 3.

    One thing ministers are very bad at doing is distinguishing between their own (often misguided) opinions and objective decisions that are good for the country as a whole. Mr Hunt has shown a substantial bias on this subject before, and should not be frankly allowed to make such important decisions nationally.

  • rate this
    +136

    Comment number 2.

    I envisage a lot of people not even knowing their are pregnant until it is already too late. So that will either be parents raising unwanted kids or kids going into care. Is that really a better option?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1.

    It's just his personal opinion, not a matter of policy. Get a grip and get back to real news please.

 

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