The law governing this area is found within the Abortion Act 1967. In a nutshell the Act provides that up to 24 weeks gestation and with the consent of two doctors a pregnancy may be terminated if the continuance of it were to cause mental or physical injury to the women or any existing children within her family, and then after 24 weeks only if it is to prevent ‘grave’ permanent physical or mental injury to the pregnant women or if there is a ‘substantial risk’ that the foetus ‘would suffer from such mental or physical abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’.
It is apparent from the act that generally a termination must be carried out before 24 weeks and NHS statistics highlight this is indeed the case with around 98% of abortions are carried out before 20 weeks. It is the 2% carried out afterwards that I feel needs to be examined closer. As a rule most women when pregnant have a scan around 20 weeks into pregnancy check for amongst other things, abnormalities to the foetus. Consequently it is therefore perfectly possible that it is the findings of these scans that equate for the other 2% of terminations carried out after 20 weeks. My only concern though is what exactly constitutes a ‘severe handicap’. In 2003 a case hit the headlines; one I will never forgot where a lady was allowed to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks due to the foetus being diagnosed with a cleft palate. As someone who was born with a cleft lip and whose first child was born with a cleft lip too I find this abhorrent. This case was challenged by The Rev Joanna Jepson, curate of St Michael’s church in Chester although the termination had already been carried out. There is also further statistical evidence of terminations for the same reason being carried out more recently, albeit at less than 24 weeks.
We only have to look to the recent episode of call the midwife to see how necessary the Abortion Act is. To go back to a time when abortion was illegal doesn’t bare thinking about and even though I am a Christian, my religious convictions bare no relevance to my opinions here. Although in that respect the abortion legislation is very interesting in that S.4 enables a person (i.e. a Doctor) to conscientiously object to participation in treatment unless the treatment is to save the women’s life or to prevent ‘grave permanent injury’ the women’s mental or physical health.
Another reason why I believe the abortion laws need to be reviewed is again a personal one. During Christmas I gave birth to my second child at 31 weeks, 9 weeks premature. Now whilst that is several weeks on from the 24 weeks gestation discussed above it did make me think; particularly so when I met one lady in hospital who’s waters had ruptured at 25 weeks with delivery thankfully later at 29 weeks. She herself commented on the upper age limit of abortion in context to the prematurity of her baby. She like me but perhaps more so felt quite shocked that children only a few weeks younger than ours or even the same age, could be terminated.
I will say this in conclusion that it is actually through writing this article that I have changed my mind on what exactly it is that needs reviewing. I no longer believe strongly (as previously thought) that it is the age limit that needs reviewing but it is the permissible reasons for a lawful termination that need to be reviewed instead. As we know it is something that is likely to be debated in parliament in the coming years.
I hope you as the reader will accept that my opinions are born out of personal proximity rather than purely writing this to pass judgment on women.
(S1) (1) (a)(b)(c)(d)Abortion Act 1967
S4 (2) Abortion Act 1967
(c) Rachael Waring, 2013
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