Reduce the time limit for abortion from 24 to 20 weeks!

Reduce the time limit for abortion from 24 to 20 weeks!

In 1990 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act lowered the legal time limit for abortion from 28 to 24 weeks, which was at the time the accepted point of viability – the time when the child was recognised as capable of independent existence outside the womb. Medical advances since that time mean that a baby born at 22 weeks has around a 10% chance of survival, 3.4% surviving without medical impairment (see The New England Journal of Medicine, Between-Hospital Variation in Treatment and Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants; see also ; ).

Since 1967 over 9 million abortions have been performed in this country. Despite what was claimed when abortion was legalised in 1967, less than 2% of these have been for medical reasons, with a staggering 98% performed for what are euphemistically termed ‘social reasons’, meaning that, for whatever cause, the baby was simply unwanted.

It is surely unconscionable that in the 21st century, in the same hospital, at one end of a maternity unit doctors can be fighting to save a child’s life, while at the other they are terminating the existence of a baby the same age. The crucial difference, of course, is that one child is wanted, while the other is not.

This is morally wrong.

We have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the whole of Europe, but it was always accepted that the right to life of a child must be protected once it became viable. In continuing with a 24 week time limit for abortion we are now well past that point, and the law must change to reflect that.

As formerly accepted in setting the cut off point, a child capable of independent existence has rights as well as the mother, and those rights must be both respected and protected. Abortion is seen as a right in this country, but a woman’s right to choose does not mean her wishes should be prioritised over the right to life of another human being capable of independent existence.

We therefore call for an immediate reduction of the time limit for abortion from 24 to 20 weeks. We further call for any fixed limit in the future to reflect the age at which a child once born – with or without medical assistance – can survive, and be reduced accordingly.

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