Fresh calls for a rethink on British abortion laws have been raised after new figures showed an increasing number of babies survive birth at 23 weeks. The figures, uncovered by The Sunday Times, raise concerns that the current legal time-frame for abortion of between 0 and 24 weeks gestation has failed to keep up with modern science, prompting MPs to call for a new vote on British abortion law.
The figures show that at least 120 babies born during the 23rd week have survived over the last four years, but that the chances of survival differ markedly from hospital to hospital. Larger hospitals with centralised expertise showed the best results, with one such hospital, North Bristol NHS Trust, successfully saving all five such babies born last year.
The legal timeframe for abortions in Britain has been changed before. The original 1967 legislation allowed for abortions up to the 28th week of pregnancy, but in 1990 this was revised downwards to 24 weeks due to improvements in neo-natal care during the intervening decades.
The matter was last debated in the House of Commons in October 2012 when pro-choice MP Nadine Dorries brought a motion to be debated in Westminster Hall (an alternative debating chamber), which included a call for a further reduction for the upper limit to 20 weeks. Introducing her motion, the controversial MP for Mid Bedfordshire said “As it stands, the 1967 Act is a joke. Everyone knows that in this country abortion is obtained on demand by whoever wants it, whenever they want it. … Parliament’s reluctance and nervousness about reforming abortion law, or even discussing it, creates an atmosphere of disrespect for Parliament among abortion providers.”
Commenting on the new figures on premature survival, Ms Dorries today told Breitbart London “It is time for the house to vote again on this issue and I shall be exploring options in what remains of this Parliament. In the past, the vote has shamefully stuck at twenty four weeks. This position is no longer acceptable and parliamentarians have to look at the facts and vote accordingly and not adhere to their own false political ideology.”
In 2008, MPs voted down attempts to reduce the limit to 20 or 22 weeks.
The figures for babies born at 23 weeks between 2011 and 2014 uncovered by the Sunday Times are as follows:
- Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 10 out of 16 survived.
- University College London Hospital, 20 of 26 babies treated survived
- North Bristol NHS Trust, 15 of the 19 babies survived.
- Barts Health NHS Trust, London, six of 11 babies admitted to the neo-natal unit survived.
However, in smaller hospitals the survival rate can be as low as zero percent. A study published in 2012, with figures based on births in 2006, showed that just 19 percent of babies born at 23 weeks survived nationally, but this may have improved in the meantime.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Dr Ngozi Edi-Osagie, clinical director of neonatal services at Central Manchester University Hospitals, said: “It is a concentration of expertise, both in medical and nursing, that contribute to making a difference in survival at this very low gestation.” She believes that a positive attitude made all the difference, adding. “If you say that they don’t survive, they won’t.”
Meanwhile, there were 565 babies aborted at 23 weeks gestation in 2011. Chairman of the all-party pro-life group, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said “I do not understand why there is not more outcry about the fact that we allow viable babies to be aborted.
“The new figures support what we have known for a while: that advances in pre-natal care make a mockery of our 24-week abortion limit.”
And speaking to Breitbart London, Peter D Williams, Executive Officer of campaign group Right to Life said “As pre-natal care allows more premature babies to survive, society is naturally questioning abortion at such a late point in pregnancy. In light of the effort a hospital will put into saving wanted babies, that the same hospital could be ending the lives of unwanted babies who might otherwise be saved shows the callous inconsistency and injustice of our laws and medical system.
“When most of Europe has a standard upper limit of 12 weeks – half the limit allowed in the UK – the need for reform of our abortion legislation in this area is clear. Hopefully, the further discussion and reflection engendered by welcome improvements in medicine will also bring more attention to the core of the abortion debate: the humanity, innate dignity, and right to life of pre-born children, as of every member of the human family.”