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Tories wade in deeper on abortion

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Members of the Conservative Government back a reduction to the current 24 week abortion limit.

The highest echelons of the Conservative Government are backing a reduction to the current 24 week abortion limit – although the Prime Minister denies that the government has plans to bring forward new legislation on the issue.

Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities, brought the contentious issue to the fore in an interview with the Telegraph.

When asked whether she would repeat her vote in the 2008 parliamentary debate to cut the legal limit from 24 to 20 weeks, she replied, “Absolutely. You have got to look at these matters in a very common sense way.”

She continued: “What we are trying to do here is not to put obstacles in people’s way but to reflect the way medial science has moved on.”

The developments in science to which Miller alludes, perhaps, are that approximately one per cent of babies born at 22 weeks survive – although not without disability or severe health issues.

Of the 196,082 abortions carried out in 2011 in England and Wales, only 2,729 were carried out after 20 weeks gestation, and a considerable number of those were of fetuses with congenital abnormalities that simply could not have been picked up until later in pregnancy.

The science bit, then, does not seem to support Miller’s comments.

Indeed, Clare Murphy, spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) expressed anger at the appropriation of science as a foundation for Miller’s ‘common sense’ approach.

“It is appropriate for them [the ministers supporting a reduction to the limit] to have their own personal convictions, but it is not appropriate for them to misuse science to bolster those convictions.

“They may have their moral qualms, but they are not entitled to transpose those moral qualms on to scientists and on to women,” she said.

Nonetheless, it was scientific developments which the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, cited when he suggested the limit should be halved to 12 weeks – a point when women have barely had their first ultrasound and begun to reconcile themselves to becoming parents, let alone determined any foetal abnormalities.

In an interview with the Times, Hunt said: “Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when they think that moment is, and my view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.

“It is just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start.”

Despite a denial that his view is informed by his own religious beliefs, Hunt’s comments echo those made by Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury: “I would say that as soon as there is what you would call an individual there, we have something that begins to make the claim of a person.”

A Women’s Minister and Secretary for Health who ground their arguments falsely in medical science and implement the rhetoric of Christian ethics have unsurprisingly outraged Pro Choice campaigners and MPs alike.

The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, described Hunt’s remarks as “chilling” and Diane Abbott suggested a reduction in the limit would be a move towards “anti-women politics“.

Surprisingly then, amid the cacophony of voices opposed to a reduction in the limit and frustrated by the topic’s reappearance on the Conservative Party agenda, both Theresa May and David Cameron have conceded their personal preference for a reduction to the current limit.

Both have stressed that while the Government has no plans to bring legislation on the issue, Cameron would support a “modest” cut and May thinks that, ‘there is scope for some reduction.’

The timing of the comments has angered some political commentators who have suggested that the issue has been raised as a ploy to detract media attention from the public fury surrounding the dismantling of the NHS.

Indeed, suspicion has even been aroused from within the party, with Nadine Dorries blogging that ‘Number 10 needed to do something to placate the Christian community’ because the Conservative Party Conference may hold an announcement surrounding gay marriage.

The renewed Conservative threat to a woman’s right to choose is indeed troubling, but what is more disquieting, perhaps, is the proposition that the government would raise such an emotive issue simply to distract the public or pacify a far-right minority.

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