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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Cardinals' call over abortion law
October marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act.
Two senior members of the Catholic church have used the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act to urge women to look at alternatives to termination.

In an open letter, Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Keith O'Brien said the Act was never meant to lead to the 200,000 abortions carried out annually.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor says he accepts abortion will not be abolished.

A poll carried out for Abortion Rights suggests four out of five people believe abortion is a woman's right.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act.


Under the terms of the law, a woman must obtain the permission of two doctors before she is allowed a termination, which can be carried out up until 24 weeks.

In their letter, the cardinals say a change in attitudes, with support for young mothers, plus a greater emphasis on sex within marriage, could lead to a drop in the number of abortions without any change to the law itself.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
This letter makes it very clear that there are other alternatives
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

They wrote: "The 1967 Act was intended to solve the problem of illegal abortion, on the basis that it was a major cause of death in pregnant women. Yet our countries now perform nearly 200,000 abortions every year.

"Whatever our religious creed or political conviction, abortion on this scale can only be a source of distress and profound anguish for us all."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that people questioned whether it was right that there are 200,000 abortions a year when medical advances have enabled them to see a child in the womb after 12 weeks.

"This letter makes it very clear that there are other alternatives," he said.

"I've been a priest for over 50 years - I've met many women who've had abortions and many of them have said they felt that they didn't have a choice.

"The fact of the matter is there can be practical help, there can be counselling, there can be time for reflection."


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said a review of the existing law was needed because it did not take account of medical advances since the 1967 Act.

He said abortion was increasingly regarded as normal, rather than as a procedure of last resort.

We would not want to further restrict women's rights, not 40 years after we celebrated the 1967 Act
Anne Quesney
Abortion Rights

MPs are currently investigating whether the time limit for abortions should be reduced.

The Commons science and technology committee is hearing evidence on whether medical advances have increased the survival chances of babies under 24 weeks.

The Pro-Life Alliance wants the upper limit cut to 20 weeks.

Other countries

But the British Medical Association says the number surviving at 24 weeks is still "extremely small".

The campaigning group Abortion Rights, which is holding a conference on Tuesday, says a poll it conducted showed the public wants to maintain a liberal approach to abortions.

Director Anne Quesney told Today that reducing abortions was possible, but clamping down on the practice would not work.

"When you look at countries like Belgium, Holland, Scandanavia, where there is very good statutory sex education as well as good access to contraception, the number of unintended pregnancies are lower and the number of abortions are lower," she said.

"So those are the situations we would like to emulate, but we would not want to further restrict women's rights, not 40 years after we celebrated the 1967 Act."

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