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

    Comment number 40.

    No one should be able to tell a woman when she's not allowed to control her own body. We should concentrate on determining when the foetus has some kind of consciousness first. And for anti-abortionists: no one's forcing you to have an abortion. Leave the other women alone. What about raped women that don't realise their rapist has made them pregnant until just after 12 weeks? It's common sense!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    This is a small first step to equalising equal reproductive right between men and women. Women get to decide whether or not to have the baby but men do not have any say in the matter, not even if they're sperm jacked.

    Either ban abortions or give men the right to say 'I don't want to be a father'

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I cant believe that men like Hunt are still calling the shots over what women can and cant do !

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    So these are the musings of a man who back in April was shown to have reduced his tax bill by over £100,000 (according to the Daily Telegraph). I wonder how this particular ex-public school educated man can possibly understand what goes on in the mind of a woman living on benefits who needs an abortion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Personal opinion? Please.

    This feels more like the beginning of a policy change. That's four prominent people in the government so far who have come out in favour of changing the abortion limit-- all the relevant players in a week.

    If the health secretary floats the unreasonable 12 weeks to satisfy the "pro-life" community, won't that make Cameron, May and Miller's 20 weeks seem reasonable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    So Mr Hunt has researched and studied the issue as to what the period of time should be for legal abortion. I would have thought his time would have been better spent looking at the financial mess many regions have with funding for the NHS. This looks like another example of just how out of touch some members of this Government are, their priorities seem somewhat askew

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Just 1% of abortions take place after 20 weeks; usually for medical abnormalities. What is the real issue here?

    Mr Hunt's personal beliefs appear to be linked to religious opinions which have no relevance to the medical needs /wishes of others.

    The current legislation appears to be fit for purpose so why is a minister seeking to raise it when there are far greater priorities out there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Awful,awful,awful.Words fail me.It's like a bad dream or a vision of hte dark ages

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Until this point, I'd always put Ed Milliband's "out of touch" comments as rhetoric. But truly this is. Does anyone really want abortion to be a political issue here, as it is in America? And this guy is now health secretary! Mr Hunt, you were incompetent at Culture Secretary, at least learn to keep your mouth shut on issues you don't fully understand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Yet another attack on women's rights by a man spouting tory ideals. How dare he push for something he obviously could never know enough about, for he would never know what it feels like to have an unwanted foetus gorwing inside of him. What about the mother that only learns at her 20 weeks scan that the baby she is carrying is abnormal? What about rape victims? How dare he meddle with this.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This is good news and hopefully will be implemented. Killing human life in the womb should be illegal, but reducing the time allowed to kill by half is a good step in the right direction.

    I wonder at what stage those who support abortion, would have supported their mothers right to kill them and prevent them experiencing life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Re Lemog 12; Oh and the freedom and rights of the unborn child don't matter, then? The unborn child is not some sort of a neutral 'thing' you can throw away - the child is an embryonic human being and as such has just as many rights as you do. You were one once, presumably...

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I see Mr Hunt has wasted no time at all in showing why he is a completely unsuitable candidate for this job.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

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

    Oh, really?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    i hope the govt. aren't trying to soften us up for a change in the law. many women do not realise they are pregnant until 8-12 weeks. such a drastic lowering of the limit would inevitably lead to more illegal abortions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    It at least reopens a debate, which is probably a good thing given that medical advances can sometimes keep a 24 week old baby alive. If there continue to be exceptions allowed for serious medical conditions that aren't detected until later, then I think some reduction is probably justified. Too often abortion is regarded as a form of contraception.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    He says he doesn't "think" it's for religious reasons!

    ...so basically it's *entirely* for religious reasons!

    We need to keep this kind of American-style religious nonsense out of UK politics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Hunt is a fool. Most women who are in a safe place know whether they want to continue a pregnancy or not and act accordingly. Vulnerable confused women may need more time to make the right choice. He is attacking vulnerable women. While contraception remains 98 or 99% there will always be unwanted pregnancies and we need the access to services maintained.


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