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With the introduction of a cooling-off period, whenever a woman says to herself If only, she would in future be able to reassure herself that she was helped,
that she had thought long and hard and that she was given all the knowledge and advice that she needed. She will take comfort from the fact that a decision was not rushed or panicked, but well thought through. That does not happen now. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service website advertises that from the point of seeing a doctor, abortion will be performed in five days. That is abortion on demand.
In the countries where informed consent has been introduced, the number of requested abortions has dropped dramatically. With a period of informed consent in this country, together with a reduction in the number of late abortions, the Bill will achieve its aims and objectivesto reduce the number of abortions performed each day and to assist women in making calm and well-thought-through decisions.
The third part of my Bill is designed to ensure that after the 10-day cooling-off period, when the woman decides to proceed with the termination, those 10 days are not added to the waiting period. Time has moved on, science has moved on, and so has public opinion. Respected medical opinionthe countrys leading neonatologists and foetal development consultantsthinks that it is time to reduce to 21 weeks. Even the public agreed in a recent study that late abortion was cruel and believe overwhelmingly85 per cent.that it should be abolished. I believe that it is time for Members to respond. After all, we passed the Act a long time ago.
I do not have all the answers. As with any Bill, the detail would need debate and amendments, and there are hon. Members with far greater wisdom and knowledge than me who would like to contribute. The Bill at least brings the debate into the open. It is wrong that it has been suppressed for 16 years. As I have said, it is not about a womans right to choose, but about a womans right to know.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): I rise to speak against the Bill with a feeling of great responsibilityin particular, responsibility to the silent majority, the one in four women in this country who have had a termination of pregnancy in the past, but who do not talk about it. After all, this is the last great taboo. Those women will listen to the debate with concernnot, perhaps, for themselves, but for their daughters and grand-daughters and their right and ability to make similar choices, if necessary, in the future.
Abortion has recently been made a matter of debate by those who want a reduction in the upper time limit or even the complete abolition of abortion in this country and abroad. It is a campaign that is fuelled and funded by religious conservatives from Washington to Rome [Interruption.]
The campaign has then been extended to these shores, where it has no place. The Abortion Act 1967, which made abortion legal in this country, was a great gift of choice from that Parliament
to the women of Britain. Parliamentarians like Davidnow LordSteel and my own predecessor in Calder Valley, the late Lord Houghton, who developed and enacted that legislation, showed great courage and are owed a huge debt of gratitude by any woman who has ever found herself with unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. By a single legislative Act, they consigned the harrowing spectre of back-street abortion and back-street butchery to the history books.
In 21st century Britain, there is no place for a law that discriminates against individual and entire groups of women, that encourages confusion about entitlement and that allows some individuals the right to impose their will and their morality on others, risking the physical and mental health of thousands of women. All those who believe in rights and taking responsibility, freedom of choice and personal autonomy will oppose this ill-informed Bill. It aims to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 21 weeks, introduce a 10-day cooling-off period after a woman has already decided that she wants a termination, and insist that the woman undergoes counselling during that 10-day period, whether she requests it or not, yet it perversely proposes that an abortion should be accelerated if a woman confirms that she wishes to end the pregnancy.
I am gravely concerned about the Bills impact on women generally. No new scientific evidence exists to suggest that foetal viability is now 21 weeks. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing do not believe that there has been sufficient technological improvement to merit a reduction in the current limit. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has no documented evidence of survival below 24 weeks.
A very small proportion of women need late terminations. Those who do have compelling reasons and often face extremely difficult or unusual circumstances, perhaps the catastrophic long-term illness of another, older child. No one involved takes decisions about late terminations lightly. Contrary to tabloid disinformation, no scientific breakthroughs have occurred to cause a reduction in the current limit. Restrictions on legal rights would leave some women in a desperate predicament.
Reducing the time limit of 24 weeks would have an adverse impact on the small number of girls or women who seek late abortions. Some women would be forced to give birth to unwanted children, some would travel abroad at great expense at a time when they were vulnerable, and some would inevitably resort to illegal abortions and risk their lives. In 1967, the UK Parliament rightly decided that those alternatives were no longer acceptable.
Late-term abortions are rare. In 2005, less than 1.5 per cent. of all abortions took place after 20 weeks. Of those, less than 0.6 per cent.a tiny fractionwere carried out at 22 weeks or later. Those that take place do so for specific and often heart-breaking reasons. This ill-informed measure does not even take into consideration the plight of women who have a wanted pregnancy but discover a foetal abnormality at a later stage. The first opportunity of detecting an abnormality is often by scan at approximately 18 to 20 weeks. The current 24-week limit allows a woman and
her partner time to consider a very difficult decision. Reducing the limit could mean that they would be rushed into making a decision or were unable to decide in enough time to allow the abortion to go ahead, if that is what they wanted.
A cooling-off period would simply prolong the anguish of a woman who has already decided that she cannot continue with her pregnancy. It would effectively reduce the time limit further and might prevent a woman from getting the termination that she desperately needs, even if she presents before 12 weeks because, in many parts of the country, access to post-12-week abortions is restricted. The earlier the abortion takes place, the less invasive it will be, and the possibility of complications is also reduced.
Of course, counselling should be available to those who want it, but it should be non-directed and non-compulsory. Making it a requirement to accessing an abortion goes against the rationale of counselling. Unless it is properly regulated, it could be distressing and misleading. There should be no delays for a woman who seeks an abortion. The stop-start approach in the Bill will unfortunately lead to even longer delays than those that currently occur.
I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) on the radio this morning, saying that the Bills objective is to reduce abortion rates per se. Ultimately, we all want to reduce abortions. [Interruption.] Of course we do. Nobody likes abortions. We also want to reduce the gestation period following which abortions take place. However, restricting access to services is not the solution, and reducing the time limit is certainly not the solution.
As I have said many times in the House, the best way of reducing the number of unintended pregnancies is to improve womens access to contraception, as well as educating women and men about sexual health. This cruel Billfor it is a cruel Billis an attack on womens reproductive rights. It would force a very small number of very vulnerable women to continue pregnancies against their will and would deny every woman seeking an abortion the ability to make her own choice within the time scale that is appropriate to her.
I say to hon. Members: By all means vote for the Bill if you really believe that a woman should be required to continue a late-diagnosed pregnancy, even if her health is at risk or the foetus is abnormal. Vote for the Bill if you do not believe that such difficult decisions should, wherever possible, be made within families. But I also say to hon. Members: Vote against the Bill if you are pro-life, if you are pro-quality of life, if you are pro a womans life. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-womens rights, because womens rights are human rights. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-reproductive rights, because reproductive rights are also human rights. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-humanity, because it is cynical, cruel, ill-informed and, above all, inhumane.
Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business, and I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Also, to accommodate the nationalist parties, I have decided that there will be an eight-minute limit on speeches in the Opposition day debate. That will apply after opening speeches, and until we come to the final two winding-up speeches.
That this House believes that there should be a select committee of seven honourable Members, being members of Her Majestys Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath.
It is an honour to move this motion on behalf of my hon. Friends and of right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House of Commons. It is the culmination of a long campaign, and it is a debate that is long overdue. The motion has cross-party support because the issue at its heart is far bigger than one of party politics. It is about accountability. It is about the monumental catastrophe of the Iraq war, which is the worst foreign policy disaster certainly since Suez, and possibly since Munich. It is about the morass in which, regrettably, we still find ourselves. It is also about a breakdown in our system of governmenta fault line in our constitution that only we, as Parliament, can fix. Fix it we must, if there are not to be further mistakes and other Iraqs under other Prime Ministers, in which case we shall only have ourselves to blame.
Adam Price: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall not. I intend to be as generous as I can, but I wish to develop my arguments. We need to hear as many voices as possible in this debate, and there is a time limit on speeches, but I shall give way to interventions.
The debate on 18 March 2003 was one of the most momentoussome would say calamitousdebates in the House of Commons in modern times. The Prime Minister gave one of the great performances of his life; it was full of certainty and undaunted by doubt. But unfortunately, we now know that much of what he told us that night was false. It is no wonder that democratic politics has haemorrhaged public confidence. Only we in this Parliament can stem that flow; we can rebuild some of that trust by holding a proper inquiry into what went on.
What could an inquiry usefully do? There will inevitably be a range of views within the House, which is why we need a sufficiently broad remit. But three central questions need to be answered. How could the Government take us to war on claims that turned out
to be false? When precisely was the decision to have this war made? Why has the planning for, and conduct of, the occupation proved to be so disastrous? Maybe the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) can give us some answers?
Mr. Bailey: I quite understand that the hon. Gentleman feels very deeply about this issue. But do his electorate in Wales and the electorate in Scotland consider it to be the most pressing issue affecting them?
Adam Price: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that, like many other Members, I have constituents who are now on their third deployment to Iraq, and, yes, they want us to debate this issue. Some would arguelike the hon. Gentleman, no doubtthat we should not even have this debate while troops remain on the ground in Iraq. If we follow the logic of the Governments argument, the graver the mistakeand, therefore, the greater the danger to which our troops are exposedthe less the Government should be required to defend their record.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Would the hon. Gentleman care to remind the House that the argument that we should not debate these matters when troops are operational is precisely the argument that was made in the Norway debate, and which, happily, was rejected by people like my father, who voted against Chamberlain and brought in Churchill?
Adam Price: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes the point very well. We need to turn the logic of the Government on its head. We need to do so precisely for the sake of our troops. We have been led into this quagmire by way of a false rationale and without a clear strategy, and we need to debate the Governments appalling record. The troops deserve nothing less.
Almost on a weekly basis, we see senior military figure after senior military figure making yet another devastating assessment of the Governments policy-making capacity. Lord Guthrie said that the policies are cuckoo. Lord Inge said that there was a lack of clear strategy at the Ministry of Defence. Most damning of all was the verdict of the current head of the Army, who said that
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