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Doctors call for MPs to support a reduction in the time limit for abortion

14 March 2024
Pregnant mother and doctor 3

Doctors have urged MPs to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks, citing medical advancements that have significantly improved the survival chances of prematurely born babies.

This recommendation, supported by a group of 700 doctors including senior NHS medics and GPs, highlights that babies born at 23 weeks now have a 40% chance of survival, a notable increase from about 20% a decade ago.

The letter to MPs reads, “A reduction in the upper time limit to 22 weeks would be appropriate now given further medical advancements that have led to significant further improvements in survival rates for babies who are born before the 24-week abortion limit.”

The proposal is timely as MPs prepare to debate abortion legislation, with opposing amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill calling for both a reduction of the limit and a decriminalisation of abortion.

Doctors campaigning for a decrease in the limit refer to the adjustments made to abortion laws in 1990 when the 28-week limit was reduced to 24 weeks in response to medical advancements that improved premature babies’ survival rates.

The UK's abortion timeframe is lenient compared to the stricter average European limit of 12 weeks, with doctors describing the proposed 22-week limit as a “moderate change”.

Polls indicate significant public support for reducing the abortion limit with 60% of Brits, and 70% of women specifically, supporting a limit of 20 weeks.

Campaigners highlight the ethical concerns about treating premature babies while allowing abortions at similar stages of gestation.

In a recent opinion piece, Caroline Ansell MP, who has tabled an amendment to reduce the limit to 22 weeks, affirmed that foetuses at this stage of their development were essentially people.

“These babies are unquestionably human: according to the NHS website, at 12 weeks, the unborn baby is "fully formed"; by 18 weeks, babies can begin to respond to loud noises from the outside world.

“By 22 weeks, they enter a pattern of sleeping and waking, and by 23 weeks they are practising breathing movements to prepare for life outside the womb.

“And yet in 2021, the most recent year for which we have full records, 755 abortions of babies at 22 or 23 weeks’ gestation were performed under ground C of the statutory grounds under which abortions are permitted, for which there is currently a 24-week time limit.”

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In any pregnancy, both the woman and preborn baby have inherent value and dignity, by virtue of being made in the image of God. CARE is passionately pro-woman and pro-life.

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