Select Committee on Science and Technology Twelfth Report


Abortion is a complex issue. Legislative decisions are informed by ethical and moral positions, philosophical, religious and political views, case law, clinical practice, and scientific and medical evidence. As a science and technology committee, we have focused only on the scientific, medical and other research evidence. As well as informing the way courts interpret the law, scientific and medical developments can alter the balance of opinion on ethical and moral issues and they often inform legislative decisions. This happened in relation to abortion law in 1990, when evidence of improved outcomes for very premature neonates led to a reappraisal of the threshold of foetal viability and this in turn to the reduction of the then 28 week limit on most abortions to the current 24 week limit. In our inquiry, we have attempted to sift the evidence on scientific and medical developments since the last amendment of the law and since the 1967 Act.

In this Report, we set out the key issues that have emerged and the key questions MPs must ask themselves as they consider options for changes in the law. Where we have felt it appropriate and justified, we have drawn conclusions about what the science and medical evidence currently before us tells us. We urge all MPs to study the evidence we have taken and the conclusions we have reached.

Because we recognise that what the science and medical evidence can tell us is only one of many factors that are taken into account when legislating on this issue, we have not made any recommendations as to how MPs should vote on abortion law.*

* For a draft Report which was not agreed by the Committee, see Formal Minutes, page 71 onwards

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Prepared 6 November 2007