Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-245)


17 OCTOBER 2007

  Q240 Dr Harris: I have a reference here: the UK Department of Health Register of Pregnancy Advice Bureaux. My understanding is that, even if you are not aware of it, your services are registered. Do you think there is an argument that all people purporting to provide pregnancy advice services ought to be registered so that they are not providing information that is clearly outside what would be considered reasonable and rational information?

  Liz Davies: Again, I think we need to separate out the two. Any premises we use for abortion advice, in other words for initial consultation if they are outside our clinics, have to be registered with the Department of Health. Counselling services as a discrete entity within that do not and we do not necessarily register them as counselling; it is for consultation. We use qualified counsellors within that process if women choose to see them.

  Q241  Dr Harris: My question is: should outside bodies that offer pregnancy counselling in your view be subject to the same regulation and registration as you are?

  Liz Davies: Yes, I think they should.

  Mrs Dorries: Dr Argent, you claimed that lowering the upper limit from 24 weeks will mean that there is not enough time for women who have had an abnormality scan then to proceed to abortion. Would you not accept that all abortions that took place post-24 weeks in this country in 2006 for foetal abnormalities were all carried out on Ground A? Your claim is not the case because abortion for foetal abnormalities can take place at any stage, and that foetal abnormality is identified at 20 weeks, of the pregnancy. So your claim that reducing the upper limit from 24 weeks is wrong. Would you agree with that?

  Chairman: I think that is a leading question.

  Q242  Mrs Dorries: Dr Argent has made the statement. You have said that lowering the upper limit from 24 weeks will mean that there is not then enough time for women who have an abnormality scan to proceed to abortion. That is not the case because abnormalities are able to be aborted on Ground E up until birth.

  Dr Argent: My principal reason for suggesting that the upper limit should be reduced from 24 weeks, and I said to 16 weeks, is a purely pragmatic and practical view based on other factors and not to do with foetal abnormality.

  Q243  Mrs Dorries: You concede that foetal abnormalities can take place up until that time?

  Dr Argent: Yes. I was suggesting that because under the current law under Section E termination of pregnancies are allowed right throughout pregnancy for foetal abnormality, that that fulfils the requirement under Section E.

  Q244  Dr Harris: Is 16 weeks your personal view or that of an organisation, and is it based on science or is it just your own feeling as someone who has worked in the field?

  Dr Argent: My reason for suggesting that termination of pregnancy under C and E sections should be reduced from 24 to 16 weeks was partly a pragmatic quid pro quo view because very few practitioners actually perform abortions after 16 weeks. Very few NHS services provide abortion after 16 weeks. In many hospitals they have a cut-off figure of about 13, 14, 15, 16 weeks. That is what actually happens in practice. This is not written up in the literature very much. That corresponds generally with public opinion in the MORI polls. That suggests that the general public would like to see easier access—

  Q245  Dr Harris: I asked you two questions: the science behind that and whether it was a personal view or not.

  Dr Argent: It is a personal view and there is no scientific evidence behind that.

  Chairman: May I thank Dr Argent, Dr Calland, Liz Davies and Kathy French for coming.

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