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Petition of 102,573 calling for lower abortion limit delivered to No. 10 by parents of children born at 22 and 23 weeks

Parents of children who were born at 22 and 23 weeks gestation along with a large group of MPs have this afternoon delivered a petition, signed by 102,573 people, to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street calling for a reduction to the abortion time limit.

The petition, delivered to No. 10 this afternoon, urges the PM “to do everything in [his] power to ensure that our abortion law is urgently updated to reduce the abortion time limit”.

The parents are calling for MPs to vote in support of the landmark amendment tabled by a cross-party group of over 30 MPs, led by Caroline Ansell MP, that would lower the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks in line with advances in medical science.

Over 750 medical professionals have also called on MPs to back the amendment to the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, in what would be the biggest change to abortion law for a generation.

The group of MPs backing the amendment includes former health minister Maggie Throup, ex-shadow cabinet Labour minister Rachael Maskell, ex-shadow Labour minister Marie Rimmer, ex-home office minister Sir John Hayes, ex-Cabinet Minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Miriam Cates.

Parents of babies born at 22 and 23 weeks tell their stories to MPs

Mother to twins Harry and Harley who were born at 22 weeks and 5 days, Jade Crane, who is supporting the initiative to have the abortion limit reduced said: “Ever since Harry and Harley were born, we’ve been determined to show that babies born at 22 weeks can survive, because here they are, our little warriors, thriving at home! It’s crazy to think that there are babies being aborted at 24 weeks when our twins were born at 22. It doesn’t make any sense”.

“Our little ones, born at 22 weeks, are living proof of what medical advancements can achieve. It’s time the law reflects this reality and the abortion limit is reduced to 22 weeks”.

“We’re calling on MPs across the UK to vote in favour of the amendment to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks. Babies in the womb at 22 weeks, which is as young as Harry and Harley were when they were born, deserve to be given a chance at life – they’re tiny humans, but humans nonetheless”.

Hanaa and Tayub, a couple from Cambridge, whose daughter Maleeha was born at 22 weeks and 6 days said: She was like a beautiful little red jelly baby. We were warned she may be stillborn or covered in bruises and distressed. But she was perfect! In fact, our little girl came into the world kicking her legs and crying, telling us ‘here I am’. She was ready to fight and belong and survive and thrive”.

“Maleeha is now 14 months old and defying all medical expectations. She has surpassed all expectations and shows no signs of any lifelong disability”.

“We were shocked when we found out that babies who are the same age as our Maleeha was when she was born can be aborted here in the UK. Every day was a challenge as she was just so tiny and there seemed to be so many unknowns, but that didn’t make her any less human and we wouldn’t change it for the world”.

“At 22 weeks, she was a baby – there is no denying that. We need to urgently update our laws to lower the abortion time limit to 22 weeks. Maleeha was born at 22 weeks and 6 days and all babies born at the same age deserve the same chance at life. Our little girl is a beautiful miracle and continues to inspire us every single day!”

Mischa, a mum from Surrey whose daughter Amaya was born at 23 weeks and 5 days, said “The UK abortion law is out of date with medical science – my daughter is living proof of that. She’s a baby, just like others in the womb at 22 or 23 weeks. We hope to see this law changed to bring it in line with modern science so babies in the womb, the same age as my little fighter when she was born, are treated the same”.

Earlier in the day the families met several MPs at an event  held in Parliament. 

The MPs heard about their personal stories first hand and about why they want to see the abortion time limit reduced to 22 weeks.

A contradiction at the heart of our abortion law

A 24-week abortion limit is now beyond the point when many babies survive, double that of the most common time limit among European Union countries and represents a contradiction at the heart of our abortion law.

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.

By the same logic, and informed by the improved survival rates for babies born at 22 and 23 weeks gestation, MPs are now calling for the abortion time limit to be updated.

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.

This is compared to the Government abortion statistics, which show that 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.

Our 24-week time limit is also out of step 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. 

Countries with 12-week limits for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds include Germany, Italy and Belgium as well as the more “liberal” Nordic countries Denmark and Finland. Even Sweden has a time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds that is much lower than the United Kingdom at 18 weeks.

Lowering the abortion time limit is supported by a large majority of the British public. Polling undertaken by Savanta ComRes shows that 60% of the general population and 70% of women support a reduction in the time limit to 20 weeks or below.

The Labour MP, Diana Johnson has also launched an abortion amendment which will remove offences that make it illegal for a woman to perform her own abortion at any point right through to birth. 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, last month, the Mail on Sunday reported 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.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK Catherine Robinson said: “This petition is one of the largest petitions delivered to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street over the last year”.

“It’s fantastic to see that an amazing 102,573 people have joined parents of children born at 22 and 23 weeks along with over 750 medical professionals to call for a reduction to our abortion time limit”.

“This demonstrates the overwhelming support from the general public for Caroline Ansell’s amendment to lower the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks in line with advances in medical science”.

“Polling undertaken by Savanta ComRes shows that 60% of the general population and 70% of women support a reduction in the time limit to 20 weeks or below”.

“The UK abortion time limit is double the average among EU countries, which is 12 weeks gestation, a point in pregnancy when the NHS website describes the unborn baby as ‘fully formed’”. 

“At the moment, a baby at 22 or 23 weeks gestation could be born prematurely and have a dedicated medical team provide expert care to try to save his or her life, while another baby at the same age could have his or her life deliberately ended by abortion in the same hospital at the same time. This is a contradiction in UK law”.

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.