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 120.

    I feel abortion should be more tightly controlled, and not used as a means of contraception as I feel it often is.

    We now have the morning after pill which can be taken up to 3 days after unprotected sex or after a contraception failure, there should therefore be no "unwanted pregnancy" issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Oh no, someone has an opinion. If the law isn't going to be changed then why is this the headline article?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I think 24 weeks into a pregnancy is too far gone for abortion. I believe the limit should be less than that but not 12 weeks. Some women don't even know they are pregnant by that time. This is a womens' issue - what would Jeremy Hunt know about it? He has no idea what it is to be faced with this decision.
    No one should be listening to him.

  • Comment number 117.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    With the oblivious exceptional circumstances, why can't woman (and men) choose to use contraception.

    From breakfast time today "1 in 3 pregnancies in the UK End in abortion".

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Hunt puts his personal views ahead of doing his job properly.

    Doubtless the lobbyists have been pursuing him and knowing he is a pushover

    Making the disgraced Minister of Fun into Minister of Health defies common sense

    Mr Cameron must be very hard up for ministerial talent putting Hunt in charge of Health

    This misgovernment will be in A&E yet again and very shortly

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Wow. And I thought Lansley was a dreadful health secretary.

    Given Hunt's other curious views on health issues (eg he believes in homeopathy), it's really starting to look as though Cameron has lost the plot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    As is usual, the anti religion brigade try and make out this issue is some preserve of those with faith.

    Well I find abortion deeply troubling. It should be toughened up and made less of an easy option.

    And I do not have a religious bent. It's society as a whole who should have a say on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Despite "call me Dave"'s cuddly liberal leaning image sometimes we get to hear what the Tories really think. Makes you wonder what they would do if they didn't have to rely on those pesky Lib Dems for a majority to form a government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I don't see why politicians are always butting in. It is convenient for my girlfriend to get rid of a blob of cells at any stage - because we should have free rights. It is so controversial what has been said. Women have busy and important lives and don't need to be told how their bodies should be regulated. It's Christians who want to make my girlfriends life inconvenient -its not a real baby

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I see we are getting lots of contributions from the moral authority brigade.

    They imagine that ALL abortions are casually decided upon by Vicky Pollard-esque 'trash' that want to end a pregnancy for sheer convenience.

    They never consider the agonising decisions that are made when sever medical conditions are discovered that would result in a terrible short life and painful, cruel death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Women who are in a situation which require abortion to be considered need every bit of help and sympathy that they can get in order to make their choice and to get over it, whatever the decision they take. The last thing they need is the pressure caused by ill-informed, self-agrandising, extremists like Jeremy Hunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Why is the BBC reporting this as the top story? I don't agree with Hunt but this is what he has always supported and voted for. An article in The Times doesn't make his not particularly uncommon views headline news, does it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    For the Health Secretary to say that he is speaking out "in his personal capacity" is disingenuous, to say the least! That Jeremy Hunt has been given a free pass regarding his previous Murdoch-gate transgressions (and then was seen hob-nobbing with the mogul at the Olympics) is palpable evidence this government is willing to ride rough-shod over people's rights or opinions. Sack this buffoon now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    30. vesselanaw

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

    Its an irrelevant question to ask as I would'nt be here to have an opinion would I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

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

    Men do have that right. They get to make that decision 9 months before the child is born. Congratulations though on taking the crown of 'Most ridiculous comment' - and it somehow made it to Editors pick too!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Tory/republican, Cameron/Romney, Uk/USA, hard to tell the difference, Labour need to replace Wet Miliband to save this country at the next election, as we cannot go the way of the Unfair States of America. A man has no right to comment or try to influence a womans rights regarding her body. Is a return to back street abortions what this fool really wants?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    91% of abortions occur below 13 weeks. 1% above 20 weeks and of those a significant proportion are severely abnormal fetuses. Some mothers then go on to have the child. This debate is partly sustained by an emotive set of pictures which, unmodified by facts such as those above, provide emotive rocket fuel for theology. A 12 week limit will have negative effects, we have got it just about right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    What does Jeremy Hunt know about abortion or anything else for that matter? A ridiculous appointment by Cameron - putting a clown in charge of the NHS is actually cruel.

    Abortion is a sufficiently serious subject, it should be debated by experts and never politicians - after all, they can't even select a supplier for a train line franchise.

  • Comment number 101.

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


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