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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 03:39 GMT
MPs call for abortion law reforms
Abortion equipment
Calls to lower the 24-week time limit were rejected
There is no reason why women seeking an abortion should need the approval of two doctors, a group of MPs has said.

A report by the Commons science and technology committee found the requirement did not serve a useful purpose and might be causing delays.

MPs also rejected calls to lower the 24-week legal limit for an abortion in England, Wales and Scotland.

They said although survival rates for babies born at 24 weeks had improved, they had not done so below that point.

Not all members of the cross-party committee agreed with the report's findings, however.

We have focused on the science, and have done so rigorously
Phil Willis, committee chairman

Conservative MPs Nadine Dorries and Bob Spink published their own separate report, claiming they had been misled on survival rates and also on the question of whether foetuses could feel pain.

The main report also called for more involvement by nurses in early abortions.

Nurse role

It said nurses and midwives with suitable training and professional guidance should not be prevented from carrying out all stages of early medical abortions, which involves the use of drugs, and early surgical abortions.

One doctor alone should not be allowed to sign away a potentially viable human life
Nicky, London

There was no evidence such a move would compromise patient safety or quality of care, the committee's report found.

It recommended just one doctor should have to sign a consent form, rather than the two currently required by the Abortion Act - a change proposed by the British Medical Association.

It went on to say there was also no evidence to suggest women, who chose to do so, should not take the second of two pills required for an early abortion at home.

The report should have reflected the differences of opinions which exist and allowed MPs to draw their own conclusions
Minority report submitted by MPs Nadine Dorries and Bob Spink

Committee chairman Phil Willis said: "Abortion is a complex issue. As a science and technology committee, we have focused on the science, and have done so rigorously.

"In our inquiry we have attempted to sift the evidence on scientific and medical developments since the last amendment of the law in 1990 and since the 1967 Act."

MPs 'misled'

He urged all MPs and the public to study the evidence and their conclusions.

The matter will now be debated in the House of Commons.

Pro-choice and anti-abortion MPs are expected to table amendments to the forthcoming Human Tissue and Embryos Bill in light of the committee's findings.

This pragmatic and sensible report provides a valuable reference point for anyone who is thinking seriously about how modern abortion care should be provided.
Ann Furedi
British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Conservative MPs Nadine Dorries and Bob Spink said MPs "have been misled in this report on two major issues: pain and survival. Two areas where experts strongly disagree and there is no clear consensus on either issue.

"The report should have reflected the differences of opinions which exist and allowed MPs to draw their own conclusions."

Labour MP Jim Dobbin, chairman of the all-party Pro-Life group, said the committee had "ignored key scientific developments" and criticised its failure to consider ethical, as well as scientific arguments as "deeply worrying".

"The imbalance of witnesses also skewed the outcome of the evidence presented," he said.

Still controversial

Marie Stopes International welcomed the committee's report as "a victory for science over thinly-veiled ideological hokum".

Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a major provider of abortions, said: "This pragmatic and sensible report provides a valuable reference point for anyone who is thinking seriously about how modern abortion care should be provided."

But Michaela Aston, a spokeswoman for anti-abortion charity Life, was angry that MPs rejected lowering the 24 week limit.

She accused the committee of "following a predetermined ideological agenda that owes very little to a careful consideration of the facts".

BBC health correspondent Branwen Jeffreys says abortion remains intensely controversial after 40 years and the figures have continued to rise.

In 2006 there were almost 200,000 abortions in England and Wales with a further 13,000 in Scotland.

Our correspondent says the vast majority were early abortions - 89% were carried out before 13 weeks and just 2% after 20 weeks.

Almost all are permitted on the grounds that pregnancy would damage the physical or mental health of the woman. Only 1% of abortions are carried out on the grounds that the child would be born with a serious disability.

Why the abortion law is under debate

Should the abortion laws be changed?
31 Oct 07 |  Have Your Say
Anti-abortion groups stage rally
27 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
Minister defends abortion limit
24 Oct 07 |  UK Politics


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