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 1280.

    Surely this is just a case of media manipulation by our new Minister for Health designed to distract attention from their disastrous NHS policies.

  • Comment number 1279.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1278.

    The Abortion law should stay has it is,it is at that length,for a reason if you have never been in that situation,that you have never had to make that decision,then don't judge,

  • rate this

    Comment number 1277.

    Shame this was put forward by Hunt ! If you haven't made up your mind for an abortion by twelve weeks .... it should be too late. But did it have to be "Anti Pleb" Hunt who proposed it ? Frankly it's says it all about this government that not only is he still there ... but he gets promotion. And I'm a Conservative voter (But still a Pleb !!!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1276.

    @ 1273. you must be right: What a nice Christian Sunday Morning greeting. Does your priest start his mass like this? God only punishes Christians who sin. He does not have jurisdiction over non-Christians. Sorry!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1275.

    Should this man even be in govenment ? im just hoping its not just jobs for the boys, keep moving him around until something suits him !! , some have no idea how half the population nay more than half live . they only see things as it affects them , plus if he has religeous problems that is his own business and not to be foist upon the rest of us .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1274.

    Every Laberal Democrat announcement seems to take them back to the Socialist arm of their roots.

    Seems they are positioning themselves for a coalition with Liebour after the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1273.

    Good Sunday morning to all the intolerant, anti-religious bigots who think only people like them should be able to express a view!

    Even if you beleive in fairy tales like, say, the whole universe just popped out of nowhere, as if by magic, you are entitled to your views.

    But there is a holy God, and we will each answer to Him, and He hates killing innocent humans.

    Lower the abortion limit

  • rate this

    Comment number 1272.


    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


    I am so very glad for you, abid.

    Those who downrate your post need to have a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1271.

    A friend of mine was attacked brutally by a stranger and she discovered she was pregnant around the 6 week mark. She knew that either way she would be psychologically scarred but had made up her mind to abort due to multiple health problems on the advice of her gp. It then took a further 9 weeks before she could have the procedure. If the limit is to decrease, will the waiting times also go down?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1270.

    As a nation, we have a lot of innocent human blood on our hands. It does us no good at all.

    Pro death is not pro choice.

    Let the babies live. Give each one a lifetime of choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1269.

    I have a prejudice against abortion but try to think about it rationally. The problem is defining a single time limit as medical advances redefine a viable life. It would be more rational to have three limits - say up to 10 weeks for abortion on demand, up to 22 weeks needing two doctors to confirm a good medical reason and above 22 weeks needing a Court order.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1268.

    What about the Baby. Everyone speaks of the Mothers rights, but what about the unborn Baby they are carrying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1267.

    I believe in god
    When I look at him I thank god that he is fit and healthy
    What we would have done if at his scan showed something bad I do not know if it had that would have been me and my partner’s choice
    As it should be for other parents I wish no one had to make such a terrible choice but it for them and them alone
    The limit should stay as it is until the medical science says different

  • rate this

    Comment number 1266.

    Is a pregnant woman not vulnerable enough, or are you willing to sacrifice ACTUAL life for POTENTIAL life, that may not survive anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1265.

    Why is it men always pontificating about what a woman can or cannot do with her body? Lets have some women pontificating say that every single man must be circumcised. Lets see how the male religious bigots accept this. The notion that boy Hunt only a few weeks into his new ministry can pronounce his bigotry against the evidence of such as the Royal College of Gynecologists is truly laughable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1264.

    Well, what's there to say about it? Very tragic, I know, but is there anything to debate about it?
    That's no reason to lower the limit. I'm glad that they both survived, but that's got nothing to do with abortion.
    What if the mother's life is in danger? Do you lose a foetus (POTENTIAL life) or does a husband lose his wife and her (already living) children lose their mother?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1263.

    Religion shouldn't have a role in making laws as not everyone is religious. If you're pro-life, that's fine, but no one is forcing anyone to have an abortion, so if you disagree, don't have one, but don't force religion on the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1262.

    #39 just because you can't get your rights doesn't mean you should take the rights of others away, although i do agree that men should have the right to give up their rights and responsibilities when it comes to a child

  • rate this

    Comment number 1261.

    @abid Just because you where extremely lucky (and I'm pleased for you) that your children survived. This doesn't mean you are entitled to tell someone else they HAVE to keep a severly disabled child or any child. I have children, it doesn't give me the right to tell any women what to do with her body.


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