Friday 26th October 2012 | 14:02
Nadine Dorries puts forward her arguments for a backbench business debate on reducing the abortion limit
Jeremy Hunt and Maria Miller’s recent comments on reducing the abortion limit sparked a fierce debate. The hysteria that ensued was typical of the entire abortion debate, where any discussion about reducing the time limit on abortion is decried as an attack on women’s reproductive rights. But this is just a politically convenient and simplistic view of a complex and highly emotive issue.
I am not anti-choice. In fact, I am strongly of the opinion that a woman should have the right to choose. However, I believe that there comes a point when society has a responsibility to balance this right against the rights of an unborn child. For me, and for many others, this point is at 20 weeks.
At 20 weeks a foetus does have a chance of survival outside the womb. In fact, a recent study from the Office of National Statistics has shown that one in 10 babies born under the abortion limit survives. But scientific evidence in this area is difficult because you cannot compare the viability of premature babies born between 20-24 weeks because of health problems with the likelihood of a healthy but aborted foetus surviving during the same period. This is not comparing like with like.
There is growing support in the medical community for the opinion that there needs to be a reduction in the time limits on abortion. According to Dr Max Pemberton writing in The Daily Telegraph, many doctors are “uncomfortable with the current cut-off point.” In his words, “It is not something we openly discuss, because we know it is a highly emotive area. But privately, many doctors will express discomfort that the current legislation is inherently illogical and inconsistent. In the same hospital where doctors are trying to save a premature baby born at, say, 23 weeks, a woman down the corridor is legally allowed to undergo a late-stage abortion on a foetus of the same gestation. So on the one hand we throw considerable money and resources to try to save a baby’s life, while on the other we sanction its destruction.”
Polls show that parliamentary opinion on abortion is out of touch with public opinion. A detailed ComRes poll found that 61% of the British public believe it is time to reduce the abortion limit compared to just 28% who want it to remain the same. Given that this demonstrates a clear majority of the public agree that the abortion limit should be reduced. Perhaps it is now time that parliamentarians started listening to their constituents about this important issue and begin to represent their views.
It is also important to recognise that it is women, not men, who are more in favour of reducing the time limit on abortion. The ComRes poll results show that 65% were women were in favour of lowering the abortion limit below 24 weeks compared to only 58%. Perhaps those on the left calling the current abortion debate a misogynistic Tory plot to reduce women’s rights should take a look at the facts and understand that it is actually women who are pushing for the reduction.
Times have changed and it is time for those on the left to catch-up. Abortion is an important issue and one that the public cares about and for this reason the debate must be had.