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 100.

    The limit is 24 weeks because that is the limit that medical professionals think it should be. These are the well trained people with all the evidence and the decision should be in their hands. Personally, if I was ever in this most unfortunate situation, I would probably not have an abortion after 20 weeks, but that would be my choice. I say probably as in each case circumstances are different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    This just shows how utterly unfit for any professional position Jeremy Hunt is.

    It's staggering that he should be proud to say publicly he supports a change that would harm so many women, many of them vulnerable. Plenty of women do not even know they're pregnant at the 12 week mark, due to a history of infrequent periods etc - without getting into cases of abuse. Vile man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The real issue here is not about the relatively rare cases of rape or genuine medical risks to mother or baby. It's about what to do with a pregnancy which is simply unwanted. It is arbitrary, not scientific, to say we can abort before 24 weeks, but after that, it's murder! At 24 weeks, the unborn child is fully recognisable as a human life. Life really does begin at conception.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    @Helen - If you were raped, wouldn't you go and get yourself checked asap to check you were ok - pregrancy.STI etc? Not wait 12 weeks!

    If you don't want a baby - protect yourself from it by using contraception - Sex = babies. No sex or protection = no babies. Therefore no need for abortion!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I don't even think my wife knew she was pregnant at 12 weeks with our second child!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    As a personal opinion, I don’t like even the thought of abortion. But I hate the idea of back street abortions even more. I hope Hunt’s opinion never becomes policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Why cant they leave this sort of stuff alone and do somthing bloody useful for a change. We are sinking a sea of debt, massive unemployed, the health system is about to collapse, sort that out then you can think about the smaller issues for god sake !

  • Comment number 93.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    McGill 50:

    Hey, stop insulting the Muppets !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Surely a more newsworthy story would be the re-introduction of the stocks for punishing anti social louts rather than this guys personal musings and dribblings?

    The last thing we want is for abortions to become an untouchable discussion topic. Leave well aone Hunt: if the docs say the limit need to be reduced then so be it, itherwise zip it.

  • Comment number 90.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    this should be the women's choice. not some minister or pro life pressure group.
    Why Cameron promoted Hunt to Health Sec. I just cann't understand,he should have been fired.put on the backbench because at this moment it looks like Cameron is give jobs to the old boys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Yes, let's get back to "good ol' Victorian values", it's only the Plebs after all.

    One is reminded of John Majors "family values", then one remembers Edwina and her eggs and one thinks, what a bunch of hypocrites.

    Has a nasty whiff of American religious right wing politics about it, isn't his pal Murdoch a member of one of these politically motivated sects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    @39 Grimlock You've got it backwards. I'm all for equal rights, but reducing women's rights in this case so they're in line with men's rights isn't the way to go. If you want the right so say "I don't want to be a father" then campaign for that, not against abortions, which as often as not aren't about merely whether someone *wants* to be a mother, but about health, family or financial issues too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Real shortage of facts here. BPSA claim 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their reproductive lifetime. Does anybody know if this is true?
    Pro-abortion position is that abortion is a women's health care issue. Is it really? Finally, Dianne Abbott and others say that abortion is a woman's right. Again, I have to ask, is it?
    It all comes down to when does life begin? Not viability; life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Also if a person can not be charged with murder or manslaughter if they cause a woman to miscarry then how can you make abortion illegal. If women and embryo's have no legal protection when an outside and unwanted force causes them to lose a pregnancy how can you make it illegal when it is a personal choice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I was wondering when this topic would surface for the UK. Are we going to have the Middle Age religious views that we are seeing surface in the US? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-slansky-/paul-ryan-said-something-_b_1832377.html

    Pro-life means pro-birth - after birth pro-lifers want nothing to do with the child, they don't want to support the mothers who will have been forced to have them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The current law is fit>At the same time you have to remember when abortion was made legal at the end of the 60s it was hard to get contraception.!! Doctors wouldnt even give it to women unless they were married. It was a very different world. I think it should be 20 to 24weeks unless on medical gounds. No woman could not know she is pregnant after 20weeks After that, its not just the womans life.!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I can see the back street abortion clinics rubbing their hands in glee.

    Either ban abortions or give men the right to say 'I don't want to be a father'
    Should have thought about that before doing the act. It's not as if men are forced to have sex. After all, are you selling a commodity or putting into place what the primary aim of having sex is about.... to reproduce!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Unbelievable! Once again a man is trying to force his own moral and/or religious views on everyone else. It's about a woman's right to choosed; there are some instances where a woman won't know she's pregnant until after 12wks or genetic tests and results aren't available until 20 weeks.
    If you don't agree, don't have an abortion over 12 weeks, but let other women decide for themselves.


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