Call To Cut Abortion Time Limit

{mosimage}The latest time at which an abortion can be carried out should be cut from 24 weeks to 21 weeks, a Tory MP is due to argue in the Commons. A foetus may feel pain from 21 weeks, Nadine Dorries MP will say when presenting a private member’s bill. Ms Dorries wants a 10-day “cooling-off” period after a request for an abortion before it is carried out. Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who opposes the bill, says it would be unethical to impose a 10-day delay on treatment.

{mosimage} There were 186,400 abortions in England and Wales during 2005. Department of Health statistics show that 89% were carried out before the woman was 13 weeks pregnant, with 67% performed at under 10 weeks.Ms Dorries said the usual argument for reducing the time limit centred on viability – the likelihood of the foetus surviving outside of the womb – which is considered to be 23 weeks. “However, my argument for reduction rests not on viability, but on the issue of foetal sentience – how foetuses respond to pain, sound etc. 

The latest scientific research puts the case of sentience at around 21 weeks.”

Australian Example

During the “cooling off”, a woman should be given access to information and counselling about the medical risk of termination as well as of carrying a pregnancy to term “as a condition of informed consent”, Ms Dorries said.

The idea of a “cooling off” was based on experience in Western Australia, where abortions have dropped since it was introduced in 1998. If the woman still wants to proceed after the 10 days, her waiting time should be consequently be reduced by 10 days, Ms Dorries said.

“Such a cooling-off period is necessary, because the decision to terminate a pregnancy or not is one with which the woman concerned will have to live for the rest of her life,” she added. “It is imperative that this decision is fully considered, and that all the necessary help and advice is available for her to make an informed decision.”

Dr Harris, a member of the Commons Science Select Committee, said a cut in the time limit would stop many vulnerable women from getting access to abortion services “for no clear reason”.

“No other medical procedure is subjected to a cooling-off period because doctors already have a duty to ensure they obtain informed consent for treatments, but also respect the autonomy of their patients,” he added.