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 140.

    I get the impression that Jeremy Hunt is a walking disaster zone

    A right wing version of Frank Spencer from some mothers do 'ave 'em

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    This government is foundering in a sea of incompetence and ideologically-driven bad decisions, yet Cameron gives this unthinking and tarnished has-been freedom to shoot his mouth off about things he knows nothing about. I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I agree with him 24weeks is way to late for an abortion.Woman need taken responsibility for themselves.Abortions have increased over the year, some cases its now seen as acontaception method for some, having down twice or more.The fact is there is really no excuse for abortions to be happening in the first place we have so many forms of contraception now.Just shows the lack in value of life.mumof2

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Curious how the State condones the killing of unborn children yet, aided by the opinion of the unelected Church in the House of Lords, is wholly opposed to the killing of a terminally-ill adult who has clearly expressed a wish to be allowed to die in a manner and at a time of his/her choosing.

    As in other walks of life, our laws and justice system are in urgent need of a radical overhaul.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    I'm sure Ministers have a lot of personal opinions and views but when you're the Health Minister you thought you'd know better to keep your mouth shut on complicated and emotive issues like abortion. It's telling that it's only Minister asking for changes, not doctors, not women's groups. The conservatives are now using foetuses as political footballs. Delightful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    This is the real Tories coming out to play here - they are thinking here about unloading abortion from the NHS and into private hands. Nothing is safe from them, don't be fooled by any moral arguments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I might support a modest reduction in time limits, on the basis that advancing medical technology might make life viable at say 22 weeks, IF the pope endorses free use of pre-conception birth control. After all, if these Catholic Conservatives truly believe life begins at conception, they could have no objection, could they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    @61 Tom Hill
    You say 'life is life' but then advocate the execution of those convicted of crimes. What about the possibility of wrongful conviction? You can't have it both ways - either all life is sacrosanct, or it's not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    We are NOT America and we don't need fundamentalists interfering in this manner with people's right to control their own bodies.

    Adoption isn't the answer - making someone go through the danger, pain and inconvenience of childbirth, then have to give the baby up once it's born, is an inhumane answer to unwanted conceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    No man or women on this planet has got anyright to tell a women what she can do with her body. I thought these obcence anti abortion relgious nutters were all all in america. Hunt should keep his opinions to himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Look how they can make innocent people criminals in an instant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    106. pro

    hypothetically, at what stage in your development would you have been ok with your mother terminating you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.


    Yes because once you are raped you are totally compos mentis and you can think logically about the consequences rather than feeling violated and struggling to come to terms with the massive invasion that just occurred to you physically and psychologically!
    Ever heard of denial as a way of trying to cope with massive psychological trauma?

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    When did the media decide that someone's personal opinion was government policy ? Nobody has even suggested that there is any intention of changing the law. This is another example of the media manufacturing news where it does not exist. Now that Hamza is gone and the courts have surrendered to Mau Mau there is little else to report evidently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I cant believe any well brought up woman would regard having an abortion as an extention to contraception. Its something that should only be done after a great deal of consideration and counseling, and a part of every woman would always have a degree of regret afterwards. 20 - 24weeks tops is about right..

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    I'm just glad that you can have a rational debate about abortion, in the UK, unlike US where it's this massively politicised issue that gets skewed by religious fanatics who want a ban 'from conception and onwards'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Sixteen weeks should be the limit.A woman should be able to decide in four months if she wants a termination or not.It is still the individuals right to decide and she has to live with the consequences herself.What right has a religious fanatic to decide on what another person should do particularly if the woman concerned is not in the least religious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I've been mocking my American friends regarding their politicians over this issue and their zealotry. This is another fine example of a conservative idiot getting hold of the reigns of power and imposing their morality on the populace. There are already too many unwanted humans in the world, we don't need to compound the issue. The Cons will loose my vote if this becomes law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Jeremy Hunt should weather the storm of criticism for his brave decision to publicise his personal views. He should then step up to lead the debate for a reduction of the Abortion Limit to 12 weeks. However long the journey takes toward it's abolition. This is a struggle comparable to abolition of the scourge of slavery. It will define not only his political career but also his life.

  • Comment number 121.

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


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