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20 May 2008 : Column 231

Mr. Willis: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I hope that she will agree that it is important early in this debate for us to put the science before the Committee and agree on some of the facts. The two major reports that look at viability—the EPICure 1 and EPICure 2 studies, the latter of which came out this year—confirmed that very few pre-term babies of less than 23 weeks come out of hospital and that virtually none at 22 weeks do. The Trent study, which has just been published, also says that no babies came out of hospital at 22 weeks. Is the hon. Lady saying that that body of evidence—the largest studies of the issue in this country, and among the largest in the world—should be disregarded? Does she not feel that all the people involved actually want—

The Temporary Chairman: Order. Could I ask hon. Members to keep interventions brief? There are a huge number of Members wishing to take part in the debate.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I cannot disagree with a body of evidence, but neither can I agree that abortion at 24 weeks is acceptable.

Dr. Pugh: The hon. Lady may not know that the recent drafts of the EPICure 2 study show a difference from the Trent study. They show an increased viability beyond 20 weeks.

Hon. Members: No.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is sitting there, and I concur with his views. [ Interruption. ] Well, there is dissent, whether we like it or not. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) has said that some babies born at 23 weeks are viable. Of the 193,000 abortions that we had last year, some of the late stage abortions, which have to be lethally injected in vitro before they are delivered, might have been viable, although I accept that the number itself would be small. I cannot stand here and say that it is all right to take those lives; I cannot do that. I would be much happier with 12 weeks—that is where I stand. Let women have the choice, but make it at 12 weeks.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What choice?

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: There is a choice. Pregnancy can be diagnosed days before a woman misses her period, let alone a few days afterwards. I cannot accept that we should keep the limit where it stands, when there is a possibility of a viable life being taken. I cannot accept that, and the vast majority of people in this country find that prospect deeply uncomfortable. Even if it were only one life, it could not be justified, but it is not just one. Within that 193,000, there are considerably more lives that could be viable, and our job is to protect the vulnerable. It is not for us to expedite what happens for the convenience of parents. For me, they have a right to life, and at that age, we should respect the fact that they should be with us.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Is it not true that it is so easy to dehumanise these children—these people—because we cannot hear their voice and we do not see their form?

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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: In the article referred to by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, the eminent doctor stated that no person seeking IVF treatment going for their first scan is told, “Oh, I can see your foetus.” What is said is, “I can see your baby, and here is his feet, here is his head and here is his spine, and it is all looking fine.” It is very convenient to hide behind the word “foetus” and other non-descriptors, because it makes it far easier to bear an abortion. It makes it far easier for all concerned to deal with the termination of a baby, which can go on to be a child—a very happy and loved child. Other studies suggest that those mothers who first elected to have an abortion and then changed their minds would have bitterly regretted such a decision a few years down the line, because the experience of the child is a different reality from the spectre sometimes painted by individuals in a hospital who think that they know what is best for a mother.

I want to bring my comments to an end. I understand that lots of Members want to contribute to the debate today. I do not think that it is wrong to argue for a woman to have more information and advice at the most critical time in her life. It is not wrong to argue for a few days of rest time to consider what will be a profound decision. I hope that the House will agree to support my new clause.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I rise to discuss new clause 3, but I will support any reduction in the current term limit, from 20 weeks downwards.

Abortion is a sensitive and complex issue. It is a subject best debated in moderate and respectful language, and I believe that it has been thus far in this debate. Members of all parties have strongly held views, as we have already heard. They are views that I respect, although I may disagree with some of them. I would like to put a question to the Committee today. Has the common practice of abortion moved away from the spirit of the original Abortion Act 1967, which was amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990?

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The 1967 Act makes it crystal clear that when the termination of the unborn takes place, it should be

if the pregnancy would put the mother’s life at risk; or

I think that most hon. Members accept those reasons, as well as reasons of incest and rape. There is, however, increasing concern inside and outside this House that far too many abortions are being carried out for social, rather than medical, reasons. Is it right that Britain carries out 200,000 abortions a year—600 abortions a day—and 6,200 of those abortions between 16 and 20 weeks? Is it right that 4,000 women in 2006 had had four repeat abortions, that nearly 1,000 women had had more than five abortions, and that some had had up to eight abortions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has already pointed out? Is that what our predecessors in 1967 set out to achieve in the original Act? There have been 6.7 million abortions in the United Kingdom since 1967.

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Far too many babies are terminated in the second and third trimesters. For those in the third trimester, abortion can often mean a lethal injection to the heart, and then the carving and slicing of the unborn child’s body parts, tearing limb from limb, cracking the infant’s skull and discarding the baby’s body parts into a blood-filled plastic bucket. I challenge the media, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough: let us see on prime-time network television a late-term abortion for everybody to see. It is in the public interest, with millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on abortion every year. Let the people of this country decide what goes on, what they will pay for and what they will stand for. Let us have these investigative reporters, these brave journalists who speak about the public interest on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or independent and Sky television put on that programme and let the people of this country decide for themselves. Why are they afraid of it? Why are they shying away? Let us see some real broadcasting for the public good.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Pritchard: I will in a moment.

The Government have an important part to play. For example, they could improve sex education and provide better access to contraceptive services. Nearly 70 per cent. of GPs do not offer a full choice of contraceptive methods. For too long, contraceptive services have been seen as the Cinderella service of public health, and I hope that all primary care trusts that are represented in this House today will do more to improve those services.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Pritchard: In a moment, if I may. The hon. Lady has intervened already, and I want to give other hon. Members an opportunity later.

A lot has been heard in this House and in the media about women’s rights. I am happy to affirm those rights today, but a cursory glance at 19th-century and even early 20th-century social history reveals that it was the feminist movement, alarmed by a male-dominated medical profession, that led the charge against liberalising abortion laws. Proponents of liberal abortion laws—perhaps outdated now, given the advances in science in recent years—should tread carefully when invoking women en masse. Yes, I am a man, but that does not mean that I cannot represent the overwhelming opinion of women in my constituency, three quarters of whom support a reduction in the current limit. Hon. Ladies who hold a particular view should not say that they speak for all women in this country—they clearly do not.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Pritchard: I am happy to give way to another hon. Member, but one or two are dominating the debate.

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Julie Morgan: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those who seek late abortions are often the most desperate and vulnerable—sometimes very young—women, who would never wish to be in that position? Would he criminalise them?

Mark Pritchard: No, I would not. The hon. Lady makes an important point, but she underlines my earlier case for better sex education, better family health services and better options, as the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has set out, such as adoption services. It is a tragic paradox that, in ward A of a hospital, doctors paid for by the taxpayer are trying to create life while, in ward B, other doctors paid for by the taxpayer are terminating it. At some point, we need joined-up thinking about how to help those who are working so hard to have a baby. We are discarding babies by the thousand, yet would-be parents in my constituency—and, doubtless, in the great city of Cardiff—want to adopt a child. Why are we terminating so many unborn children?

I should like to pay tribute to many hon. Members, but I start with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). Unlike many leaders, he has shown courage and leadership in standing up and saying that he supports a reduction in the term limit. The Prime Minister has said that he will start to listen. If he wants to do that, he should listen to the two thirds of the British public who support a reduction in the abortion term limit, including three quarters of women. The overwhelming majority of GPs also support that reduction. Indeed, many are not prepared to perform abortions over 16 weeks, in which case people have to be brought over from abroad. If the Prime Minister is serious about listening, he will listen to the women of this country.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is assisting his argument by introducing a political element. Does he agree that, whatever term limit we determine, the sort of neutral information for which my new clause provides will help women in the desperate position whereby they suddenly learn of a danger to their child about which they did not know?

Mark Pritchard: Absolutely. I look forward to considering new clause 8, which I fully support. I was not being partisan or party political—I simply stated the facts. If that is inconvenient or uncomfortable for hon. Members, I make no apology. The issue is important for the nation, and I was considering national leadership, not partisan politics. New clause 3 shows that I have cross-party support.

There are consequences for mothers. Abortion is not risk free or without cost to the mother. We have heard about higher rates of mental illness, an increased risk of breast cancer and the possibility of future premature births. All the facts need to be presented to women, informing them of the risks of abortion and the associated costs, possibly later in their lives.

Why 16 weeks? Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that unborn children feel pain at 16 weeks. That is not simply a stress response; it is a physiological response, perhaps not the same as in a fully grown adult, but a physical and even emotional response beyond the norms of passive reflex. Pain is felt, which
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is why specialist, gifted surgeons who perform surgery on babies in the womb use anaesthetic. Now, 4D imaging reveals that 16-week-old unborn babies are very much alive and kicking, although their limbs are too small to be felt by the mothers. Those who have had children know that they are likely to feel kicking at around 17 weeks in the case of a second baby and 19 weeks in the case of a first baby. However, just because the mother does not feel kicking, it does not mean that there is no leg kicking.

Sixteen-week-old unborn babies are very small human beings, but they have many of the faculties of newborn babies. I will probably get told off for doing this, but I have a picture of a 16-week-old unborn baby. It speaks for itself.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been told off.

Mark Pritchard: I am always being told off, Mr. Gale, so I shall simply add that to the list.

That picture, like the one on my website, is not a tissue blob or an unrecognisable collection of cells, but a living, small human being. Even some botched abortions between 16 and 20 weeks’ gestation revealed the extent of their humanity. One study in the west midlands revealed that 14.7 per cent. of the abortions undertaken ended in a live birth. Indeed, babies born alive after failed abortions are increasingly common.

An expert from the International Association for the Study of Pain wrote in volume XIV of the “Clinical Updates”:

I believe that the unborn are fearfully and wonderfully made. Terminating a child that has been woven and knitted in the womb should be a choice of last resort, not the latest manifestation of Britain’s throwaway society.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Pritchard: Briefly.

Hon. Members: He’s just walked in.

Mr. Reed: I have been sitting here throughout. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me, as someone who was adopted in 1964 three years before the 1967 Act, that—to revert to his original concept—we want a massive reduction in the number of abortions? It is emotive to talk about the number of weeks. Would it not be better if the Committee were to return to the original concept of the law, which the hon. Gentleman has rightly read out, and ensure that abortions are not a matter of convenience, but are undertaken for the reasons in the original Act. Would that not serve the country better than talking about the number of weeks?

The Temporary Chairman: Order. Again, I appeal to hon. Members to keep interventions brief. We have three Front-Bench spokesman waiting to speak, two hours of debate and at least 15 hon. Members wishing to contribute. We must show each other some courtesy.

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Mark Pritchard: Thank you, Mr. Gale. It was a long intervention, but it was worth while, because the hon. Gentleman has made some personal and valid points. My answer is that I hope that we can do both those things.

I often wonder, given Britain’s skills shortage, how many of the 200,000 aborted last year could have been the engineers and maths teachers that we need. Indeed—and not on a light note—how many could have been the English cricketers and football players that we need? A lot of talent has been lost.

I hope that, given the cross-party support for new clause 3, we will have an opportunity to divide on the matter and to enter the same Lobby. I hope that the House will have a chance to express its view on foetal pain, sentience, the sanctity of life and public opinion.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Because the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made some political points, may I say at the outset how sad I am that the former hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, cannot be here to speak in this debate? Gwyneth was a great champion of women’s rights. I think that she would have been disappointed, as I am, that this debate is, with some very honourable exceptions, dividing on party political lines. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It is true.

It is clear from the last three speeches that abortion is an emotional topic. It provokes strong reactions in almost all societies and is clearly doing so in the House this evening. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that women should be patronised when they become pregnant and steered towards the expected outcome of carrying that pregnancy to term. People who are not directly involved with unwanted pregnancies dominate the public debate. Not surprisingly, they operate on wrong assumptions about how a pregnant woman should be treated and cared for.

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The first gross misconception is the assumption that restricting abortion or making it illegal would in some way be pro-life. The error in that argument is that the exclusive focus is on the foetus. The woman is totally ignored, as if she does not count. A clear example of the low value put on women’s health by the anti-choice lobby is the recent Polish court case in which a woman was forced to become nearly blind as a direct result of being denied an abortion. That woman’s sight had less value than upholding her pregnancy. I hope that hon. Members will not go down that route tonight, because that position implies that one can protect life by restricting access to abortion or making it illegal. However, there is no evidence at all that restricting abortion reduces the numbers.

Michael Jabez Foster: Is my hon. Friend not pursuing a false premise? No one is suggesting that the life or the health of the mother should be compromised. We are talking about healthy mothers and healthy babies.

Chris McCafferty: Perhaps my hon. Friend is not aware of the recent National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on scans, which are quite clear. The recent guidelines, in “Antenatal care: Routine care for the healthy pregnant woman”, from March 2008—

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