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I do not know the exact figures, but I have no problems with that argument. Of course, many of usnot everybody, as some of those who oppose abortion on religious grounds also oppose the use of contraceptionwould seek to improve sex education, relationships education and contraception. There is no debate about that. If that led to a fall in backstreet abortions, it would be a good thing. That is the path that we all want to go down. We do not want women to feel that they need to have abortions. It is impossible for those people who are proposing the 16-week, 12-week and 20-week limits to deny that that would
lead women who are feeling desperate to seek an abortion that would inevitably damage their health and lead to some of the misery that we have seen in the past.
I am also concerned by the attempts to reduce the time limit as part of a demonstration of how to deal with the mythical broken society. I believe that putting women through the misery of having to look for backstreet abortions, having to seek illegal abortions or being forced to carry on through pregnancy and birth would increase the broken society, if that is really what we are talking about.
Judy Mallaber: I want to make progress, because I am conscious that a number of hon. Members want to speak, including my hon. Friend, and that I would be depriving them of time. He might get in, if he does not intervene now.
As has been noted, some hon. Members are talking not only about the 16-week limit that I discussed earlier but about what is said to be a more modest reduction to 20 or 22 weeks. There has been a lot of debate, which I will not repeat, about how all the medical and scientific organisations concerned with the issue and the Science and Technology Committee accept that there has not been a substantial change in the viability limit.
Earlier today, I listened to the initial results from the second EPICure studywe have already had the Trent study and the first EPICure studyand it is probable that we have reached the limit of possible technical advance. That limit is due to how the foetus develops, and the lack of brain and lung capacity in the period just before 24 weeks.
My right hon. Friend the Minister spoke earlier about what happened in 1990, when we moved from 28 to 24 weeks. That change was seen as an attempt to keep the time limit for abortions consistent with what was then regarded as the scientific viability level. That is where the science leads us at present. Of course, I do not deny that it is possible to break that link, even though to do so would go against what all the medical and scientific organisationsdoctors and othersare urging. However, a reduction to 20 or 22 weeks would not reduce the number of abortions. Those who want to use a reduction in the limit to that end will not achieve a substantial cut in the number of abortions, but if they get their way, they will bring misery to a small number of women who, as has been noted, are often among the most vulnerable.
A point that has not been made so far in the debate is that, perversely, a reduction in the time limit could lead to an increase in abortions. The problem of foetal abnormalities needs to be considered and, no matter what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) may claim, my understanding of what the scientists say is that it will not be possible to get tests for all foetal abnormalities at an earlier stage. I am not a scientist, but that is what I understand.
As a result, women who do not learn about abnormalities in the foetus until a late stage and only realise then that they may need an abortionor who may have presented late, or who did not know that they were pregnant, and so onmay be panicked into
getting an abortion when, if they had had a few more weeks to consider, they might have taken the pregnancy to term. If the limit is reduced to a point that is too earlythat is, to only just after the time when the possibility of an abortion has been discussedthe perverse effect may be that women end up having more abortions, because it is something that needs time for consideration.
I was at a briefing with the British Medical Association earlier today. We heard from the charity Antenatal Results and Choices, which helps support women whose foetuses have abnormalities. As has been discussed already, current legislation means that it should still be possible for such women to have an abortion at any time, regardless of the limit. The charity said that the 24-week limit is the line in the sand for many doctors, and I do not dispute their right to take that view, but women who are not diagnosed until late may not get the further tests that a final diagnosis requires. As a result, because they fear that they might lose the chance, they may be panicked into having an abortion that they might not otherwise have.
I was 19, my father had died and I was looking after my 8 siblings with my mother who could barely afford to keep us. I couldnt face telling my mum about my pregnancythings were so difficult. If I couldnt have an abortion Id have killed myself. Now Ive been able to go to college, learn to read and write, play a full role in society and bring up a family of my own.
I had been taking the pill. When I had a missed period, I went straight to my doctor for a pregnancy test. It came back negative. I was still missing periods. I returned to my doctor who said I had nothing to worry about. A short while later I met someone who had had a child after finding out too late that she was pregnant to have an abortion. I did another test, which came back positive. It took a further two and half weeks before I could have an abortion. It was the right thing for meI have never regretted it.
Those are two examples of late abortions that would be ruled out by those people who feel, Yes, going to 16 weeks or 12 weeks is too far for me, but a moderate reduction would not have a terrible effect. It would; it would cause misery for a small number of women.
Sandra Osborne: Does my hon. Friend agree that the use of the term abortion for social reasons can be very unhelpful, in suggesting that women have late abortions for reasons of pure convenience, whereas we know that there are tragic causes that relate to domestic violence and the examples that she has given, which are nothing at all to do with mere inconvenience?
Judy Mallaber: I agree with that. At the BMA meeting, Dr. Chisholm talked about his first week as a GP, when he went to a farming family who only realised that their daughter was pregnant at the point at which she went into labour. That shows how there can be complete denial and many situations in which people are not aware that they are pregnant or in which they are in such shock that they go into denial and end up seeking abortions late. We must think of those circumstances.
At the BMA meeting earlier today, Dr. Kate Petersona GPmade the point that, when talking to someone who is seeking a late abortion or is not sure what to do, there are many complex circumstances that need to be talked through. She appealed to us not to take away the ability to have that serious discussion and talk through the possibilities with the woman concerned, and she said that that would be taken away if the woman was forced into a speedy decision by a reduction in the time limit.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Lady is making a powerful social caseI do not apologise for using that termagainst reducing the limit, but does she accept that even those of us who might not have had any problem yesterday in voting to defend stem cell research, because we do not regard a small collection of cells as a person, nevertheless have a moral question to answer about when personhood emerges and when the legitimate rights of the woman that she has described must be nevertheless balanced with the rights of a second moral presence? We must wrestle today with that question, which she is not really addressing.
Judy Mallaber: That brings me back to my first argument. I will not convince the hon. Gentleman; he will not convince me. [ Interruption. ] Women consider those two different sets of arguments as well. It is wrong to impose a different set of moral views on a woman who does not take the moral view that abortion is wrong or that it is wrong in those circumstances. We will not convince each other, but I would not dream of telling a woman who was strongly opposed that she should have an abortion, and the same respect should be held the other way around.
Judy Mallaber: No, I will not give way, because we have very little time left and a number of hon. Members still wish to speak, including those who take a different view from mine, and I respect their right to express their views. [ Interruption. ] If I let in an hon. Member because she is regarded as supporting my views, I would be criticised for not letting in others who take a different view. So I shall come to a conclusion.
I dread the idea that we might go backwards, and I dread the idea that we might force women against their moral views and against what they feel is right for them into a position where they are forced to go through pregnancy and to bear a child in a situation in which they might feel desperate. Of course we all want to cut the number of abortions, and we want to do so through better advice, better contraception and all the things that we can do to prevent abortions, but there will be circumstances in which women feel the need to go through that, and I appeal to the Committee not to make it difficult for them and not to put them into the terrible position of having to make that choice and of having to go through unwanted pregnancy, birth and the terrible decision of whether or not to keep the child that they have borne unwillingly.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): There are two points that I would like to clear up before I embark on my speech. The first is on the issue of disability, which has been deliberately clouded tonight. My new clause 5, which would introduce a 20-week limit under section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act 1967, relates to social terminations. If my new clause, and the 20-week limit, were agreed to tonight, and any woman found, at a 20-week or 21-week scan, that there were abnormalities, she would be able to abort up until birth under the Act. That will not change at all if my new clause is agreed to. I am surprised at the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who muddied the waters slightly. My new clause refers only to social terminations in healthy circumstances.
Mrs. Dorries: Well, I definitely will not give way now. Let me give some further figures on the disability issue. In 2006, some 2,860 terminations took place between 20 and 24 weeks. One in five of them567took place because of a disability. That situation would not be affected at all by my new clause; those mothers would still be able to abort.
I should like to make my personal position clear, because it has been misrepresented in the past few days. I am pro-choice. I support a womans right to abortionto faster, safer and quicker abortion than is available at the moment, particularly in the first trimester. That is my position.
Dawn Primarolo: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for saying that she supports abortion. She will agree that it is a good point that 89 per cent. of abortions are conducted in the first 13 weeks, so her case about getting more done does not really stand up.
Mrs. Dorries: As I have found from my research, one of the main problems is that many young women who present at a hospital or at a doctors are made to wait two to four weeks before a termination. I want to make my position clear: I am not against abortion per se. Actually, I would go further: I would like the morning-after pill to be available from every school nurse and in every supermarket pharmacyand it should be free for young girls, and not £25 at the chemists, as it is at the moment. [Interruption.] I can imagine the discussions that are taking place.
Now may I get to the substantive part of my speech? I first became concerned about and interested in the issue of abortion when I worked as a nurse. I worked for nine months on a gynaecology ward, and assisted in many terminations and late terminations. I also went to witness a late surgical abortion six weeks ago. I became interested in abortion when it became apparent to me, as a nurse, that far more botched late abortions were taking place than should. The first one that I witnessed was a prostaglandin termination. A little boy was aborted into a cardboard bedpan, which was thrust
into my arms. When I looked into the cardboard bedpan, the little boy was gasping for breath through the mucus and amniotic fluid. I stood by the sluice with him in my arms, in the bedpan, for seven minutes while he gasped for breath. A botched abortion became a live birth, and then, seven minutes later, a death. I knew when I stood with that little boy in my arms that one day I would have the opportunity to defend babies such as him. I thought that we committed murder that day. I cannot think of another word for a nurse or doctor present at the birth not attempting to resuscitate a baby who was an abortion but became a live birth.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists then dealt with the issue, because a number of botched abortions were happening across the country. The RCOG produced guidelines setting out a new way to abort babies from 19 weeks onwards. A number of people have talked about the method. I witnessed a late surgical abortion six weeks ago
Mrs. Dorries: I am not going to reveal that to the Minister. I think that people need to know this: the baby was given a lethal injection of potassium through the mothers abdominal wall, into the babys heart. The process was supervised by an ultrasound scanner, so that the doctor could see exactly where the needle was goinginto the foetal heart. The baby died and 24 hours later went through the process of surgical dismemberment and removal. It was just as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) described. It is the most dramatic experience to watch. The baby was dismembered and put in a plastic bucket.
I hope such an operation is filmed one day and shown on television. The facts have been kept from the general public for too long. Since I had an article published in a newspaper recently, more than 1,000 people have e-mailed and written to me. They had no idea that that was the procedure that took place.
If babies do not live below 24 weeks, one must ask why the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides guidelines to guarantee that they do not. Do they live or not? If they do not, why do we go through that horrific process?
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. These are extremely emotive issues, but I hope the House can continue in the vein that has characterised most of the debate, and listen to the views of each hon. Member.
What the hon. Lady described on her blog as an injection of vitamin K, rather than potassium, which was curious, is exactly the way of ensuring that the baby comes out normally, through expulsion rather than dilatation and curettage, as she
describes. However, the procedure that she has just described is also the way that intrauterine deaths, which tragically occur and which are not abortions, are dealt with. So she has not revealed a sudden discovery. It was precisely to avoid the distressing sight, for some people, of abortions being born alive, which are bound to die because they are not viable, that that procedure was carried out. There is universal medical consensus on it.
Mrs. Dorries: First, I am very aware of the difference between potassium chloride and vitamin K, and I have never written the words vitamin K on my blog. I defy anyone to go, right now, and find that. It does not exist.
Secondly, there is a big difference between a wanted birth which dies in utero and an aborted birth. The RCOG produced the guidelines for abortion. There has been much discussion this evening about whether women have rights. Of course they do. However, in a pregnancy there comes a point when a baby may have a chance of viability. I shall give some evidential figures on viability.
We have heard much of the EPICure 2 study and the Trent study. Professor Field, who is the author of the Trent study, said on the Today programme this morning that he is not sure that we should be using viability as a marker, and neither am I.
Mrs. Dorries: The analysis of viability of premature births happens for a reason. Premature births may occur because those babies are poorly, or the uterine environment is unwelcoming, but that is very different from aborted babies, the majority of whom would be healthy, as are normal births. Unless we ask 1,000 women to abort at 23 weeks of pregnancy so that we can see what happens to healthy babies when they are aborted, we cannot use the argument of viability. But the limit was set at 24 weeks.
Between 1980 and 1985 at University College hospital, no babies survived at 22 or 23 weeks. Between 1996 and 2000, 50 per cent. of babies born at 22 and 23 weeks survived. BLISS, the neonatal childrens charity, says that more information is needed about the neonatal services that are provided in this country and at what gestation babies do well. If there were dedicated transport so that babies born early could get to a neonatal unit quickly and receive treatment, there would be a rise in the figures, as there has been in Sweden and in hospitals with good neonatal units on site.
If more neonatal units did not close their doors 52 times a year, as every one in this country did last year, and if a baby could be transferred to a neonatal unit within minutesinstead of hoursof birth, we would see a big difference. We see a difference in hospitals with good specialist teams in their neonatal units. The survival figures are very different. Granted, in the EPICure 2 and Trent studies the figures were averaged out, so that every birth was brought into the figures. However, for hospitals with good neonatal units attached to them, such as University College hospital, the figures are very different.
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