Over 700 medical professionals call on MPs to lower abortion time limit

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Over 700 medical professionals have backed calls to MPs to lower the abortion time limit to 22 weeks. 

They have signed a letter to all 650 MPs urging them to vote in support of a landmark amendment to the government's Criminal Justice Bill tabled by a cross-party group of over 30 MPs led by Caroline Ansell MP. 

The MPs say that the abortion time limit should be lowered in line with advancements in medical science that have led to more premature babies surviving before the current limit of 24 weeks. 

Survival rates in the last decade for babies born at 23 weeks have doubled from two in 10 to four in 10, leading to changes to guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) about the intervention of doctors to save the lives of babies born from 22 weeks onwards.

Research by the University of Leicester and Imperial College London last November found that between 2020 and 2021, some 261 babies born at 22 and 23 weeks survived. 

Mrs Ansell expressed her support for the amendment in an op-ed for The Telegraph newspaper in which she pointed out the contradiction in current law that means "one team of medics working to save life and another to end life" even in the same hospital. 

"These babies are unquestionably human: according to the NHS website, at 12 weeks, the unborn baby is 'fully formed'; by 18 weeks, babies can begin to respond to loud noises from the outside world," she wrote.

"By 22 weeks, they enter a pattern of sleeping and waking, and by 23 weeks they are practising breathing movements to prepare for life outside the womb.

"And yet in 2021, the most recent year for which we have full records, 755 abortions of babies at 22 or 23 weeks gestation were performed under ground C of the statutory grounds under which abortions are permitted, for which there is currently a 24-week time limit."

John Wyatt, emeritus professor of neonatal paediatrics at UCL and a practising Christian, told the newspaper that his own personal experience as a neonatal doctor persuaded him of the need to change the law. 

"I have first-hand experience that on the one hand we are able to keep babies alive from 22 to 23 weeks gestation and many of them survive and live normal and healthy lives, yet at the same time the current abortion act allows abortion to be carried out effectively at maternal request at 24 weeks gestation," he said.

Right to Life UK said that if passed, the amendment would be "the biggest change to abortion law for a generation". 

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK Catherine Robinson said: "The UK abortion time limit is double the average among EU countries, which is 12 weeks gestation, a point in pregnancy when the NHS website describes the unborn baby as 'fully formed'.

"At the moment, a baby at 22 or 23 weeks gestation could be born prematurely and have a dedicated medical team provide expert care to try to save his or her life, while another baby at the same age could have their life deliberately ended by abortion in the same hospital at the same time. This is a contradiction in UK law.

"That's why we need to support Caroline Ansell's amendment to lower the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks in line with advances in medical science."