Cutting abortion time limit would affect Irish women, says support group
A CUT in the legal limit for abortion in Britain to 20 weeks from 24 would disproportionately affect women travelling from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, said the London-based Abortion Support Network.
The debate about the cut-off point was ignited by newly appointed secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt on Saturday when he voiced his personal support for a reduction from 24 to 12 weeks, citing advances in medical science.
Two other members of the cabinet, home secretary Theresa May and culture secretary Maria Miller, followed by voicing support for a reduction from 24 to 20 weeks, before prime minister David Cameron intervened, emphasising that the government had no plans to change the law.
However, yesterday Mr Cameron said a reduction could be proposed in a private members’ Bill.
“Parliament does vote from time to time about these issues. It does tend to vote once a parliament or so. We now have, under this government, the ability for parliament to decide what it wants to vote on,” he told the BBC.
Voting decisions on abortion, which was legalised up to 28 weeks in 1967, are not covered by party whips in the House of Commons and left to each individual to decide. All the evidence suggests, for now, that a private members’ Bill advocating a cut would fail.
Just 1.4 per cent of British abortions take place between 20 and 24 weeks, though one in 12 of all abortions performed in Britain on women from the Republic of Ireland take place after 20 weeks, said Mara Clarke, director of the London-based Abortion Support Network.
Scans, she said, often did not take place until 20 weeks, so Irish women do not discover until then if the foetus is suffering from serious congenital problems: “So then they are faced with the situation of getting themselves organised within a matter of days.”
British research shows that the majority of all women who have abortions between 20 and 24 weeks are disproportionately young; older women who do not recognise that they are pregnant because they believe they are going through the menopause; or those in abusive relationships.
“However, the real reason why so many Irish women are late coming over is that they are trying to raise the money,” said Ms Clarke, who pointed out that abortions up to 14 weeks cost £400 approximately, between £600 and £700 after 14 weeks and £1,300 and over after 19 weeks, plus travel costs.
According to British department of health figures, there were close to 190,000 abortions in England in 2011 – a 0.2 per cent rise on 2010 and 7.7 per cent higher than in 2001, though there were falls in the number of under-18 girls. All bar 4 per cent of abortions upon British women were funded by the National Health Service.