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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 July, 2005, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Should abortion laws change?
Nurse performing ultrasound scan
Do you think the upper limit for abortion should be lowered?

Doctors at the British Medical Association conference have voted against reducing the upper limit for abortion from 24 to 20 weeks.

Some politicians and medics have questioned the current time limit as medical advances have boosted the survival chances of premature babies.

What do you think of the vote against reducing the limit?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Women do not always know if they are pregnant by the 12 week mark, pregnancy test are not always reliable
Caroline, SE London
I agree with the BMA's decision not to endorse reducing the abortion limit, as most of these abortions are only carried out due to severe foetus abnormality anyway. A lot of men who have commented on this issue seem to endorse serious restrictions on abortions in general. Women do not always know if they are pregnant by the 12 week mark, pregnancy test are not always reliable, a friend of mine had two negative home tests before a doctor confirmed she was three months pregnant. Why force women who want an abortion to have children? We should respect women who do not feel that they are ready or able to have children, not make them guilty.
Caroline, SE London

Why is it okay for a woman to choose to abort a baby that could survive outside the womb, but the act of terminating a baby's life becomes murder the second it is born? It might make a whole difference to the mother, the only difference to the child is the environment he is growing in. I completely sympathise with parents who find themselves having to decide to terminate a pregnancy at a late stage due to medical reasons. Just as it is in France, the law should differentiate abortions for personal reasons (and 12-14 weeks seem reasonable) and medical abortions where no date limits should be imposed as in these cases, it is likely the baby would not survive anyway.
Lauren, Sussex

The woman is not the most important person to consider in all this and you don't have to be a man to recognise that. Science has conclusively demonstrated that a 20 week old foetus is a living, sentient human being and its right to life is therefore paramount. To suggest otherwise flies in the face of reason and ethics.
Clive Copus, London, England

I had an abortion at just over 20 weeks. It was a hugely difficult decision that I did not make lightly. I was, for a long time fully unaware I was pregnant due to a lack of periods, and only had a few weeks to make my choice. In the end I could not bring a (much wanted) child into the relationship that I was in; which was emotionally and physically abusive. I still feel that I made the right choice; I am still battling with the scars and I had no right to inflict that on a child. I don't feel I did the wrong thing. But I do wonder what could have been if I had been with the right person. By all means reduce the upper limit. But unless you have experienced this, please, refrain from piety and preaching. I don't think any woman goes through this lightly - no matter how she may try to react on the surface.

There is a principle here: it must be wrong to abort a baby who can survive, and not only survive, but be healthy. My son was born very prematurely and is entirely healthy. In a few years 20 week babies will survive (and be healthy), so the limit should be about 18 weeks.
DF, London

The current limit is fine as it is. Abortion is never an easy option. However, what should be changed is that the father should be able to have a say in the decision.
Anthony, London, UK

Where a child could be born normally with no abnormalities, abortion should be done only to protect the health of the mother. If a child is simply unwanted, there are plenty of childless couples out there who would love the chance to adopt.
David, Cornwall, UK

At 20 weeks we found that our baby had severe abnormalities, but chose to continue the pregnancy. Two weeks later (last weekend) he passed away, I was induced and delivered him. It was a terrible ordeal, but worth it just to be able to hold him, look him in the eye and tell him that we loved him and had done everything we could to help him live. I couldn't have done that if I'd chosen a termination.
Anon, UK

I am about to qualify as a midwife and I feel the safety and rights of women are paramount. I am reassured that the law has not changed. If it is made harder to obtain an abortion, inevitably there will be a 'black market' which will provide these procedures, either in this country or abroad. The foetus has no legal rights in the UK and I consider that important. Otherwise women become perceived as vessels for their unborn child and might be prosecuted for damage done to the foetus. This in my mind is not acceptable.
Sally Harborow, Brighton, UK

One of the most common arguments is that of "it's plenty of time for a woman to realize she's pregnant" which is clearly untrue, just by reading the comments! Medications that mess with menstruation cycles, even how the foetus is positioned can make a pregnancy undetectable. What then? Be penalized because you truly did not know?
Glynnis Baker, Pa, USA

As a mother I find it repugnant that people consider that it would be acceptable for a woman to experience the third trimester of pregnancy and the process of giving birth against their will, on the premise that a percentage of children born before 24 weeks survive. What a cruel, mentally destructive and terrifying experience that would be.
Dawn, Kettering, England

This topic was suggested by Carrie Ricketts, UK:
While I can sympathise with the beliefs of those who disagree with abortion on principle, I struggle to understand those who want to reduce the limit to 20 weeks

I gave birth in December last year. A shortage of appointments meant that I didn't get my "20 week scan" until almost 24 weeks. Had my baby had a severe disability, my husband and I would have had just one day to decide whether we wanted a termination. I agree in principle with reducing the time limit, but the ante-natal screening programme in this country needs significant improvement first.
Rachel, West Yorkshire

I had an abortion at 21 weeks. I had been very ill for several months and my periods had been stopped for 8 months. I only found out I was pregnant at 20 weeks. To all those people on here saying that 5 months is too much time to decide - try making that awful decision in 5 days. I don't regret the decision I made, I was not in a position then to look after my child.
Anon, UK

Just because you have to agonise over the decision does not make it morally acceptable to terminate the life of a child - even one still in its mother's womb. And since when have men's views on this issue not counted?
Clive Copus, London, England

People should not be forced to have babies that they do not want.
Dave, Essex

What about the child's right to life?
Helen, Edinburgh
Reading over these comments it's all about the woman's right to choose. What about the child's right to life? In a world of 'human rights' surely the right to life is more important than the right to choose!
Helen, Edinburgh

I think the abortion rate should be lowered. I went into premature labour and had my daughter at 21 weeks gestation. She was breathing on her own and died after 2 1/2 hours. What really gets to me is I had to deliver her naturally and it was a terrible ordeal. Yet a woman who has a late abortion often gets taken to theatre and put under general anaesthetic for the procedure.
EP, Billingham, Cleveland

I finally had confirmation from my doctors that I was pregnant at nearly 24 weeks after months of blood test and urine tests, You can imagine my shock at this. Although I did consider abortion I went on to have a beautiful baby, however, I was glad to have had the option and a choice. Every woman should have the right if they so choose for whatever reason to have an abortion. It's not something that you take lightly and I had a week of misery and mental torture when I was trying to make a decision.
Marie, Berkhamsted, Herts

It's interesting how everyone talks in weeks - it's only just hit me that a 24 week old is 6 months old! Especially now, with science this far on, how can we say it's OK to terminate a 6 month old unborn child? It's also interesting how we see an unborn child as something we can terminate and a newly born child as something so precious we have to risk our lives to save. The difference between them is just a few months.
Kim Lavery, Belfast

Another thought. I have a friend with spina bifida. In seeking to understand his condition, I once asked if it would have been better if he had been born in recent years so that modern medicine could have helped him. His observation was that modern medicine would have identified his condition earlier, and he would have been terminated. Likewise, on those that think it better to be aborted than to grow up as an unloved, unwanted child; ask any one who has done so their view and whether they would have preferred to have been denied the chance to grow up at all?
Bill, Gloucester, UK

How can it be right to abort a baby at an age when it can be born and live?
D, England
I'm a neonatal nurse, which means I care for babies that are born prematurely or just need some sort of help before they can go home. I have cared for many 23/24 week gestation babies and have seen most of them die, but some lead normal lives. How can it be right to abort a baby at an age when it can be born and live? An infant born at 26 weeks is a regular occurrence and will pretty much always survive, only two weeks after the legal abortion limit. I realise everyone should have a choice because all circumstances are different, but I think it should be harder to do. To have a breast reduction/implant on the NHS you have to go through a psychiatric profile but you can abort a child at a viable age because you just don't want it?
D, England

I am a sonographer performing scans on mothers/babies. There appear to be a lot of comments about how unfair it would be to only discover an abnormality at 20 weeks and force the mother to continue with the pregnancy - this is not what the limit is about. Abortion for foetal abnormality is still allowed up to term under present and new legislation - this limit is purely for social rather than medical reasons, and as such I would prefer a limit of 20 weeks.
Helen, Maidenhead

As I scroll down the list of comments I see that most of the opinions come from men. This is rather interesting as it is not the man who has to go through the procedure of abortion.
Gary Higgins, Liverpool, England

Many of the comments seem to centre on women "choosing" late abortions. Most women who intend to have an abortion do so early on the pregnancy. However, the abortions conducted in the 20-24 week period are generally as a result of discovering something is seriously wrong with either mother or foetus. In these situations, it is rarely the preferred "choice" of the woman, more likely the result of her situation (ie financial, social and mental). I wholly support the BMA in their decision to not reduce the limit.
Nia, London

I think it would be good to reduce the time limit. I'm surprised that doctors, who are lawfully bound to try to save life in this country, voted not to change the law and save some lives that might otherwise be lost.
Clive, Guildford, UK

Given that late terms abortions are actually very rare, and most abortions are performed far earlier, why bother lowering the limit? It won't affect many women, so there's not really any point. My personal feelings on abortion are that the foetus is not alive until it's born. Until then, it's only able to survive because its mother allows it to, and if she doesn't want to, then that's her choice. No one should be a mother against her will, and it's better for a child to never be born than to grow up hated by its mother.
Louise, Epsom, Surrey

Abortion is the last resort and should only be used rarely in exceptional medical cases
Alan, London, UK
The limit should be lower than 24 weeks. At this stage the foetus is almost fully formed and is viable. It only has to grow. To those talking about 'a woman's right to an abortion': abortion is the last resort and should only be used rarely in exceptional medical cases. It should not be regarded as an alternative to contraception.
Alan, London, UK

Yes absolutely. I believe women have the right to choose but even 20 weeks is too late, unless it's for medical reasons.
Dee, Windsor, England

Many birth defects are not found until 20 week scans when earlier scans are normal. If a scan is abnormal at 20 weeks with a condition not compatible with life, or at best extremely difficult with maximal intervention, how can you expect someone to then deliver the child at birth knowing they will die or at best have a very slim chance of survival?
James, Manchester, UK

My local area only offers one scan - at 20 weeks. If the baby has a severe disability, then the parents will not find out until it is too late for a termination if the limit is lowered. Is that fair? Should women be forced to carry, deliver and nurse for the rest of their lives a child with no quality of life? What about any siblings? Would it be fair on them? No.

I'm not exactly sure whether I agree with this. What if a teenage girl needed more time to decide? Then it would be a big problem for her. Yet I do understand the views of those who say that it needs to be lowered.
Rhiannon, Carmarthen

No woman should be required to carry a child if she does not wish to, any more than we should be required to give up all our possessions not essential for life to feed the starving. On the other hand, at some point, an emergency Caesarean followed by adoption is the appropriate course, rather a termination. Maybe 22 weeks for a healthy foetus, up to 26-28 for a seriously handicapped one that would probably not survive.
Steve Linton, Crail, Fife

It really depends on the circumstances surrounding each individual birth
Lynne Thomas, Wales
It really depends on the circumstances surrounding each individual birth. Nobody can always speculate early on if everything is going to go okay. What if a child dies in the womb at 23 weeks? Would it have to stay in there for the full term while the mother knows all along her child is dead? You can't put time on such an individualistic personal experience.
Lynne Thomas, Wales

I am pleased with the outcome of this vote. I believe that it is a woman's right to choose to get pregnant and also her right to choose whether she continues with that pregnancy or not because it's her body - nobody else's.
Liz, Worthing

Surely it is better for a child to be aborted than not wanted or not loved? Of course it's better to abort as early as possible, but that is no reason to not allow parents who feel they won't be able to give the child what it needs to choose not to have that child albeit at a late stage of pregnancy.
Lucy, Newcastle

"Surely it is better for a child to be aborted than not wanted or not loved?" Lucy says this above... Let's do a survey of all adults who feel they were unloved and unwanted as children. Question: "Would you rather have been aborted than be unloved?" I think they would all 'choose life'. Life should always be given a chance, deformed, diseased or unwanted. As a society we need to give a voice to those without one. In this case the unborn child.
Chris Chorlton, Cairo, Egypt

To Lucy of Newcastle, so you think it is kinder to the 'child' to abort ... especially if you cannot give it what it 'needs'. Well, mostly it 'needs' to stay alive! You are kidding yourself ... pretending that abortion is in the best interests of the child.
Mandy Phoenix, Liverpool

Sounds entirely reasonable to me, although I do have misgivings about the time and effort put into saving premature babies. As for the likes of SB from Northants, how on earth can the medical profession stay out of the argument if it is they who have to perform the abortions and care for premature babies? Or do you think doctors and nurses should be compelled to perform or assist in abortions? What about their rights to a clear conscience?
Steve, Bristol, UK

It should become much harder to go for a termination
Helene Frost, Newbury, Berkshire
Yes, the limit should be reduced. It should become much harder to go for a termination. You never ever get over it, a mistake that I made myself.
Helene Frost, Newbury, Berkshire

I wasn't interested in this debate until I saw a scan of my son (now two and a half) at 10 weeks, with head, body and limbs already clearly developing. I completely fail to understand how anyone can justify not reducing the limit to 10 weeks or even less except in truly exceptional circumstances.
Peter Drake, Cambourne, UK

Yes the limit should be lowered. As medical science progresses then the laws and limits need to be addressed. Abortion is not something that I could go through with but it needs to be there as a choice for people. With the majority of pregnancies being detected so early (six weeks) if a pregnancy is unwanted then there is a lot of time to make this decision. There does, however, always need to be a back up for those people who do find out about severally handicapped babies and undetected pregnancies.
S East, Burgess Hill

It's a surprisingly sensible decision from the BMA regarding an issue that's extremely difficult, personal and private for the woman concerned.
Ken, London, UK

I agree with abortion but with advances in medicine if a foetus is capable of living after 20 weeks gestation it should be given every chance. If unwanted by the mother after she has had every chance of contraception the child should be put up for adoption. There are plenty offering to take up these children.
Dave S, Warton, Lancs

Five months is in my opinion plenty of time to make a decision
Nicholas Sammons, Washington, DC
I am very much pro-choice, but think that time limits on choosing to have an abortion should be stricter rather than looser. What excuses could someone have for waiting five months to have an abortion? Unless health hazards or child handicaps become an issue, five months is in my opinion plenty of time to make a decision. The longer one waits, the more ethically questionable abortions becomes. Waiting five months seems irresponsible.
Nicholas Sammons, Washington, DC

Whatever is decided, please, keep this debate in medical and legal spheres. It does not belong in the realm of politics or, much worse, in petty minded religious or 'high-moralistic' squabbling.
Keith, London, UK

I had a termination at just under 24 weeks. It was a very much wanted pregnancy but we found out the baby would have severe handicaps and probably not survive the birth. We didn't feel it was fair on the baby or us to continue and so 'chose' one of 2 uneasy options, to terminate. The whole thing is horrendous and involves giving birth to your baby and living with the guilt and what ifs. I cannot imagine any women would go through that for trivial reasons, and don't believe doctors would take it lightly. I didn't 'believe' in abortion at all before being placed in that position, it's a totally different thing to take the moral high-ground when you have the luxury of never being in that dreadful position.
J, Sheffield

The limit should be reduced to 20 weeks given what we know now about the development of a foetus in the womb. However, this reduction should be coupled with increased access to abortion clinics, making it easier for those who want an abortion to have one, earlier into the pregnancy
GW, Birmingham

Such late abortions are extremely rare. I know a girl who was completely unaware that she was pregnant until 22 weeks. She has a chronic illness and her medication affected her menstrual cycle, so she didn't even know that she was pregnant. If she had not had the option of termination, then the baby would almost certainly have been born with severe disabilities, and she may have suffered life-threatening complications. I am against abortion generally, but people should have the right to make informed decisions, and if this person did not have the option to terminate it could have had severe mental and physical consequences for both mother and baby.
Anonymous, Birmingham, UK

This issue needs to be split into the abortion for medical/health reasons and the abortion for lifestyle reasons. For the latter example, 8-10 weeks is more than enough time for someone to realise they are pregnant and take the appropriate action. On the other hand, if an abortion is needed for medical reasons then these should be assessed on an individual basis and the current limits are probably more or less suitable for this. Since having children myself, I am surprised at how my views on this issue have changed, and I suspect that the majority of people not wanting a change do not have kids themselves.
Chris Chitty, Bourne UK

The fact that babies born as soon as 24 weeks are being saved is testament to the advances in medical care. However, I don't think that it can be used as justification for a reduction of the upper limit to 20 weeks, regardless of whether you are pro or anti abortion. If this precedent was set, then we might see a steady reduction in the upper limit in line with further advances in medicine.
Hans Stiles, Chessington, England

No one sets out wanting an abortion
Clare, St Albans
My local health authority only offers one scan at 20 weeks. This is the only chance to see if the baby is alright or if there is something seriously wrong with it. I doubt most abortions over 20 weeks are simple lifestyle choices most would occur when a serious birth defect is detected. No one sets out wanting an abortion.
Clare, St Albans

No. Medical science may well have advanced to the point that the survival rates of premature babies are considerably better. So what? They are surviving due to intervention on our part. If a woman wants an abortion it's her decision and frankly state, religion and the medical profession should stay out of it.
SP, Northants

The very fact that doctors see an ethical issue with late-term abortions shows that they consider an unborn child as an independent human life which needs their care. It is not surprising that pro-abortionists find this an uncomfortable development.
Ashley, London

I feel strongly that this isn't a political football, it is a serious medico-legal and ethical matter that requires careful debate and not ill-informed sound-bites. Abortions cause great unhappiness, unwanted and unloved children cause even greater unhappiness.
BOB, Welwyn

While a woman should always retain the right to an abortion, science should be a counter-weight to the timing. As survival rates (as in term passed) come down, so must the limits. If there are any medical reasons why a woman cannot decide whether her child should be terminated by 20 to 24 weeks - then these tests need to be made a priority! The timing must be considered a basic 'human right'.
S Allsop, Essex

Yes. The less developed a baby is when the time comes to terminate the better. Surely a decision should be made by the parent(s) well in advance anyway?
Oliver Clamp, Monte Carlo, France

In my opinion, if the mother wants to have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy that is her right, and hers alone.
Emma, Leeds

I think even 20 weeks is too much to be acceptable. 12 weeks should be the absolute maximum.
LK, London

Abortions that late in pregnancy are very rare and are not done lightly. Completely banning them is wrong because there are a number of life threatening conditions which aren't apparent until late in the pregnancy.
Ian, Rochester

While late-term abortions are controversial they should be available to women who want them
Louisa, SW London
I'm pleased that the BMA have shown such good sense. Abortions over 22 weeks were only 1% of all abortions performed last year. While late-term abortions are controversial they should be available to women who want them. Why should we force women to have babies they don't want? Despite advances in contraception no-one can make 100% sure that they won't get pregnant without a hysterectomy. For those who are worried about the overall rise in abortions, restricting late-term abortions will not reduce the overall rate.
Louisa, SW London

My son was born and survived at 24 weeks. Unless there is danger to the mother the limit should be reduced to even less than 20 weeks. I cannot see how a person can carry a child for several months and justify changing her mind at the last minute.
M Grant, Dundee

Abortion time limits should only be reduced to 20 weeks if a more detailed scan is offered earlier in the pregnancy - say at around 14 weeks - so that should there be anything wrong the baby, parents have the time to look into the disability and decide if they are able to continue with the pregnancy. There should also be exceptions to the rule in extreme cases such as pregnancy after rape or if continuation of pregnancy causes the mother serious medical problems.
JC, Oxford

While I can see the argument for reducing the upper limit, it's important to remember that it's not premature babies with a chance of survival that are being aborted post 20 weeks. As I understand it, the majority of abortions this late in pregnancy are as a result of foetal abnormality that is so severe the baby wouldn't live anyway.
Jack Hatfield, Brighton, UK

Yes, the lowering of this upper limit is long overdue. In fact I say lower it to 18 weeks. Any woman considering an abortion has plenty of time to decide in four months. It's about time that we moved abortion law more in the favour of the unborn child.
Chris, Chorley

Good that the BMA have voted against and maybe the debate will now stop but I doubt it as the pro-lifers are against abortion full-stop. Very few babies survive at 24 or less weeks and if they survive they have medical problems as they grow up.
Adrian Cannon, Edinburgh Scotland


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