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Conservative MPs threaten to derail Govt bill if extreme abortion amendment added

A number of Conservative MPs are threatening to derail the Government’s flagship Criminal Justice Bill next month if it includes a law change that could be introduced via an extreme abortion amendment to the Bill, which will remove offences that make it illegal for a woman to perform her own abortion at any point right through to birth.

While Caroline Ansell tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that intends to lower the abortion limit to 22 weeks, the Labour MP, Diana Johnson has also launched an abortion amendment. The amendment does not outline circumstances in which it would continue to be an offence for a woman to perform her own abortion – the changes to the law would apply throughout all nine months of pregnancy and would not exclude sex-selective abortions.

However, the Mail on Sunday reports that a number of Conservative MPs are furious about the potential insertion of this extreme abortion clause into the Criminal Justice Bill and that at least some of these MPs will go against the party whip in the third reading, which could jeopardise the entire Bill.

The Mail on Sunday reports that one Conservative MP said “This is so extreme. We cannot have a situation where abortion at any stage is legal – that’s obviously a recipe for disaster. If we have to, I’d consider bringing down this Bill”.

Conservative MP Miriam Cates said “To make it lawful to end the life of a viable baby right up to the moment of birth for no other reason than it is not wanted is morally wrong”.

Nick Fletcher MP added “Decriminalisation of abortion will no doubt end with abortions happening much later, even up until full term. This cannot be right in a civilised society”. Instead, alongside 24 other MPs, he will be backing Ansell’s amendment to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks.

Regarding her amendment to reduce the abortion time limit, Ansell said “The increase in survival rates for babies born at 22 and 23 weeks gestation is one of medical science’s great success stories in recent years. More and more babies born at these ages are able to survive thanks to the hard work of neonatal teams”.

“As in 1990, when our laws were last changed to reflect similar increases in survival rates, it is time our abortion time limit was updated. Our current time limit is an outlier compared with our European neighbours and my hope is this amendment will command widespread support across the House”.

Time to lower the abortion limit

Originally set at 28 weeks, the abortion limit was lowered in 1990 to 24 weeks gestation. Improved survival rates for extremely premature babies between 24 and 28 weeks was one of the key considerations that motivated this change.

In the decade to 2019 alone, the survival rate for extremely premature babies born at 23 weeks doubled, prompting new guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) that enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks gestation.

Research published in November 2023 by academics at the University of Leicester and Imperial College London indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 and 23 weeks gestation can now survive outside the womb. According to this research, there were a total of 261 babies born alive at 22 and 23 weeks, before the abortion limit, who survived to discharge from hospital in 2020 and 2021.

However, according to the Government abortion statistics in 2021 alone, 755 ‘ground C’ abortions were performed when the baby was at 22 or 23 weeks gestation (ground C is the statutory ground under which the vast majority of abortions are permitted and there is currently a 24-week time limit for abortions performed under this statutory ground).

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said “Whatever merits the Criminal Justice Bill may have, Diana Johnson’s extreme abortion amendment will ruin the entire Bill and make it impossible for a number of MPs to support i. However, it is encouraging that a number of MPs are willing to put their parliamentary careers on the line to protect unborn babies”.

“Instead, MPs from across the political spectrum should support Ansell’s amendment to lower the abortion limit to 22 weeks. Polling demonstrates widespread public support for a time limit reduction, with support for this reduction strongest among women”.

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine 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.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.