Attempt to introduce extreme changes to UK abortion law fails

Attempt to introduce extreme changes to UK abortion law fails

A late November attempt to hijack the UK Government’s flagship Health and Care Bill with an extreme abortion proposal has failed, in a significant pro-life victory, with Diana Johnson MP’s amendment (NC50) not going to a vote. 

This amendment would have changed the Offences Against the Person Act so that the current medical and legal safeguards, which prevent a woman from performing her own abortion without the involvement of a registered abortion provider, would have been removed through to 28 weeks.

There was also strong support for the three pro-life amendments to abortion legislation that were tabled to the Bill.

As these amendments were probing amendments, they were not taken to a vote, but a large number of MPs across different parties showed their support for these amendments by signing them.

The amendments proposed a reduction to the abortion time limit, a ban on sex-selective abortion, and an end to abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

Time limit reduction from 24 to 22 weeks

Amendment NC31 reduces the upper gestational limit for abortion from 24 to 22 weeks’ gestation. 

The current 24-week limit is based on an outdated understanding of the viability of premature babies. The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine establishes 22 weeks’ gestation to be the point of viability and enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks’ gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

The abortion time limit in the UK is more extreme than the majority of other European countries, being double the median time limit among EU countries of 12 weeks’ gestation.

Polling from Savanta ComRes demonstrates the widespread public support for this change to the law, with 70% of women favouring a reduction of the time limit on abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Ban sex-selective abortion

Sex-selective abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the unborn child. Amendment NC51 clarifies that abortion on the ground of sex of the foetus is illegal.

An undercover Telegraph investigation revealed that doctors were agreeing to provide sex-selective abortions “no questions asked”, and uncovered that sex-selective abortions were being offered in the UK, including by a doctor who worked both privately and for the NHS.

Furthermore, there is an increasing body of first-hand testimony from UK-resident women who say that they have been coerced into obtaining sex-selective abortions in the UK and abroad. A Department of Health and Social Care report on sex-selective abortion detailed the personal testimonies of women who had been coerced into obtaining a sex-selective abortion in the UK by their partner or family.

Once again, there is widespread public support for this change to the law, with polling from Savanta ComRes showing that 91% of women agree that gender-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

Disability discrimination

Lastly, Amendment NC52 introduces an upper gestational limit on abortion on the grounds of disability equal to the upper gestational limit set out in section (1)(1)(a) of the Abortion Act.

Currently, abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot is available right up to birth. This contrasts with the time limit set out under section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act, which is set at 24 weeks.

A recent court case was brought against the Government for allowing disability discrimination in abortion by Heidi Crowter, 26, who has Down’s syndrome and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose son has Down’s syndrome. Ms Crowter has consistently described how the current law “makes [her]feel that [her] life is not as valuable as anyone else’s”, whilst Ms Lea-Wilson was “placed under intense pressure” to have an abortion after a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down’s syndrome.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has recommended the UK update its law on abortion, specifically suggesting they amend abortion legislation to clarify abortion should not be singling out babies with disabilities.

Polling has again shown the support of the public with only one in three people thinking it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability.