Thank you for contacting me about abortion.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the parliamentary event being hosted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children due to prior commitments.
Nevertheless, I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is, and I appreciate the strength of feelings on both sides. It is for this reason that, as with other matters of conscience, the Government adopts a neutral stance on abortion, allowing Conservative MPs to vote freely according to their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. This is a convention which I support wholeheartedly, as I do believe that it is a woman’s right to control her own body.
The approach to abortion in Great Britain is set out in the Abortion Act 1967, which states that two doctors must certify that, in their opinion, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground laid out in the Act. These grounds include “risk to the life of the pregnant woman”, and “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.
I am encouraged that guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act has been issued, which stipulates that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion. Full details can be found online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-w….
Through the Abortion Act, all women have access to safe abortions on the NHS, up to 24 weeks. Women are also able to take abortion pills at home up to ten weeks of pregnancy. The Government believes this approach provides the right balance, a view I share, and I understand there are no plans to change this. Crimes under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act carry a maximum life sentence.
By longstanding convention, any changes to the Abortion Act, including time limits, would be determined by Parliament. This would be a matter of conscience and MPs would be given a free vote issue.
Sex Selective abortion
Abortion on the grounds of sex alone is illegal and I am glad that the Government guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act makes this clear. With regard to the Non-Invasive Prenatal Test, this test is never meant to be used to determine the sex of a child, and I share your concerns that this test could be misused to inform sex selective abortion. That is why I am glad that the Government will continue to review the evidence regarding the test.
Abortion on the grounds of disability
Not every pregnancy goes to plan and foetal abnormalities of varying degree of severity occur. Women need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgemental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.
I am glad that Section 4 of the Act protects the right of staff to conscientiously object to participate in abortion treatment. The Supreme Court has ruled that this right to conscientious objection is limited to those staff who actually take part in treatment administered in a hospital or other approved place. This does not include ancillary, administrative or managerial tasks that might be associated with treatment.
In response to a recent question in Parliament, my colleague Maggie Throup MP (Minister for Public Health) stated whilst that officials keep evidence on fetal viability under review, there is currently no clear consensus from the medical profession that the age of viability has reduced below 24 weeks.
Ultimately, it is a question for Parliament whether to propose any changes to the law on abortion such as gestational time limits.
I will not be able to attend the event on 24 May due to my other parliamentary duties, but I would be interested to read the evidence being presented.