Nick Herbert calls for review of abortion laws

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for a review of Britain’s abortion laws, arguing that advances in medical science now require a lower time limit than the current 24 weeks.


The MP was speaking after he voted in favour of the Termination of Pregnancy (Counselling and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill receiving a Second Reading in the House of Commons.

The Bill, which was introduced by Conservative MP Ann Winterton on Tuesday (5 June), sought to require women seeking an abortion to be counselled and briefed on the possible ill-effects and then to have a seven day cooling off period before undertaking the procedure.

Recent research shows that 78 per cent of women would like a compulsory cooling off period between diagnosis of pregnancy and abortion, 85 per cent want more help to be given to those who want to keep their baby, 87 per cent think that public funds should go to charities offering alternatives and that 96 per cent want a right to be fully informed about the health risks involved in abortion.

However, the Bill was defeated in the Commons by 182 votes to 107.

Britain's abortion laws date back 40 years when a Private Member's Bill introduced by David Steel led to the passing of the Abortion Act 1967.  When the law was introduced there were only 24,000 abortions in Britain a year.  This figure now stands at just below 200,000.

Current law permits an abortion to take place anywhere up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy but recent statistics show that 67 per cent of abortions are carried out before 10 weeks of pregnancy and 89 per cent before 13 weeks.

The 24 week time limit for an abortion, except in an emergency, is increasingly being called into question as a result of medical advances which have seen more and more babies being delivered successfully prematurely and surviving.  Twenty years ago only around 20 per cent of those babies weighing less than one kilo at birth survived.  This figure is now over 80 per cent.

Following the vote, Nick Herbert commented: "I believe that every abortion is a tragedy and that we must do all we can to ensure that women seeking the procedure do so based on the fullest possible information and after a period of consideration."

The MP added: "This year is the fortieth anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967.  Since there have been significant advances in the science and medicine upon which the legislation was based, I think that it is time to review it.

"If the opportunity arises, I will vote in favour of a reduction of the 24 week time limit."



Notes for Editors

1. The text of Ann Winterton MP's Bill was as follows:

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require counselling of a pregnant woman as a condition of her consent to termination of her pregnancy; to require the pregnant woman to see a registered medical practitioner prior to receiving counselling; to introduce a minimum period of 7 days following counselling before registered medical practitioners may certify an opinion referred to in section 1(1) of the Abortion Act 1967; to require the forms used for certifying and giving notice of the reason for termination of a pregnancy to state risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman as separate grounds for abortion; and for connected purposes."

2. The transcript of the debate on Ann Winterton MP's Bill, which took place on Tuesday 5 June, can be found at:

Alexander Black