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 1260.

    Clair McAlpine, a dancer on Top of the Pops, was just 15 when she took her own life on March 29, 1971.
    Beside the corpse were the empty bottles and Clair’s red diary; a diary written in the girl’s own hand of Jimmy Savile’s alleged sexual predatory instincts.

    Savile, stands accused by 40 women of rape or sexual assault. But there is no space on HYS for this tiny story, SHAME!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1259.

    I think it is appalling that they want to lower the limit. People are too quick to decide what is best for each other without knowing enough about their circumstances. I myself had a late abortion as due to health reasons I didn't even know I was pregnant for 3 months. I regret nothing. To continue would have been the worst thing for me and the fetus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1258.

    Civilsation is defined by how the vulnerable are treated. This is because we are moral beings and guilt restricts our creativity. Neurology shows us that the weight of guilt about abortion hanging over us, whether you are prolife or prochoice, is enough to stop and then reverse the civilising process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1257.

    I believe abortion limit should be lowered, this time last year my wife gave birth to twin boy and a girl .they weighed under a pound and doctors told us that their survival chances were below 0% , 1year on and when you see them you wouldn't even think they were premature, they are just like any other baby . So my kids are a living example that the law needs to be changed

  • rate this

    Comment number 1256.

    Why should a man have any say Abortion limit the only man who should have a say is the father if he is willing to step up and pay for the child to 18 then that is ok but if he is not then it is down to the woman and her doctor to sort out for the best
    A woman as to live with her decision

  • rate this

    Comment number 1255.

    None knows better than a mother what's best for her child. It takes courage to makes decision even before it's born. It's a sense of responsibility towards the child. A mother is prepared to sacrifice her own happiness and yes, her own life, for the sake of her child. Even if that decision is the hardest of all, to terminate that child's life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1254.

    Abortion isn't murder. Just like euthanasia isn't murder. George Tiller's death was murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1253.

    With all our financial difficulties, and increasing pressure on the NHS and what it can afford to do, do we really want to force babies into the world with high chances of life long health difficulties just because it is technically possible to keep most alive for any particular early date? So what if viability 'could' be earlier than once before, does not mean we should!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1252.

    The issue for me is the age at which the child could survive outside the womb. It cannot be right that one child is killed at 24 weeks, when in another room, doctors are striving to keep another of the same age alive. Certainly, terminations should be legally available, to prevent the horrors of 'backstreet' abortions, but I believe the time limit needs to be cut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1251.

    Premature Births -
    Up until 21 weeks: 0% survival rate
    at 22 weeks: 0-10% survival rate
    at 23 weeks: 10-35% survival rate
    at 24 weeks: 40-70% survival rate"

    And what is the proportion of brain damage or other severe health condition requiring life long treatment and support? Some are truly miracles, but you don't hear about the many that are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1250.

    1244. Adam
    How do you apportion value to life? A child in Africa, for instance, has no particular value to me, and it matters not to me whether it lives or dies. To it's mother it might mean the world. Who am I to have any say in someone else's life if it has no impact on mine? Why would I want to?
    Do you apportion equal value to all life or would those closest to you have greater value?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1249.

    1237 firemensaction.

    But surely you must believe that when another human being is dependent on a woman's body for survival, the woman has a duty to consider its needs before deciding to end it's life?

    When you're sharing your body with another person, it come across as exceptional selfish when you refuse to have any respinsabiluty for the welfare of someone who is entirely dependent upon you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1248.

    1241. firemensaction
    Government should consult widely about this new proposal, but leave religion OUT of it!! But women should have the final word on what is decided!

    Why consult if women have the final word?
    What if women decide infanticide should be allowed up to the age of 8 weeks, if they've changed their mind about motherhood?


  • rate this

    Comment number 1247.

    How to remove life without war being involved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1246.

    1232. coastwalker
    The god squad need to be careful ...We dont want it here and they need to think very hard about raising the temperature over issues like this. It wont be productive for anybody. Rational debate yes, with all the practical considerations, keep belief out of it.

    I'm an atheist and in my humble opinion your using the royal "we" and you don't have the right or the rationale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1245.

    Guess this must be the only hys in town. My own opinion on this apart from this sport of thing not being a priority is that this is merely akop to the Tory base (who lets not forget don't entirely trust Cameron) in order to head off a likely split in the Conservative vote in the next election with UKIP. Therefore I don't think that pro choice/life groups should get too animated about this

  • rate this

    Comment number 1244.

    For those saying abortion is a woman's personal choice, consider this point. There are laws in place to protect people from murderers who have dysfunctional views on the value of human life, so why should that protection not be extended to the most vulnerable members of society; unborn children? Mothers should have a duty of care to the child in their womb just as much as they do to anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1243.

    1237. firemensaction
    Shouldn`t it be up to the WOMAN how soon (or if) the abortion should be done?
    Women should have the decision in their hands, after all it IS their body!!

    & what of the child's body!! Is there not enough time before 20wks to come to a decision to decide whether a child should live or die? Does anyone like you even know what happens to that child when it's being aborted?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1242.

    Why do people want the legal right to kill babies? Once a child is concieved it is a living being, so what sort of sick society thinks killing it is ok? What is this "its a womans body etc"; parenting is all about giving up selfisness? How did these nauseating ideas come here? We don't have capital punishment anymore, except for inconvenient babies.People kissed their brains and humanity goodbye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    In the USA doctors have been MURDERED because they run abortion clinics!!
    By people influenced by RELIGIOUS people!
    If that is what religion stands for I am glad I left it behind when I found science at 14!
    Government should consult widely about this new proposal, but leave religion OUT of it!! But women should have the final word on what is decided!


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