Thursday 8 May 2008

24 reasons for 24 weeks: a pro-choice call to arms...

As part of her campaign to force the government to reduce the 24 week limit within which women can legally have abortions, the MP Nadine Dorries yesterday unveiled '20 reasons for 20 weeks'. Today, we publish 24 reasons for 24 weeks, as part of a larger campaign to fight for women’s rights to abortion. This was written by me in conjunction with Jess McCabe at TheFWord, and is backed by the London Feminist Network, Liberal Conspiracy, TheFWord, Abortion Rights, Red Pepper magazine and Feminist Fightback.

24 reasons for 24 weeks.

1. There has been no improvement in the survival rates of infants born before the 24-week time limit during the past decade, according to the British Medical Association.

2. Last autumn, the Commons Science and Technology Committee of MPs found no medical basis for a change in the law.

3. Research shows that lowering the time limit does nothing to lower the number of abortions taking place.

4. There are many far better ways to reduce the number of late-term abortions. People who object to late term abortions should be fighting to make early abortions easier to access, and to increase the availability of proper sex education and access to contraceptives.

5. No contraception is foolproof, and anyone can find themselves pregnant against their will; until foolproof contraception is available, legal pregnancy termination up to 24 weeks will remain necessary.

6. Some women need late-term abortions because severe abnormalities in pregnancy, such as Edward’s syndrome, are rarely identified until 20-21 weeks. Reducing the time limit would force some women to carry severely impaired or dying fetuses to term - an horrific experience.

7. Some vulnerable women need late-term abortions because an abrupt change in personal circumstances - such as domestic violence, which often escalates in pregnancy - leaves them unable to continue with the pregnancy.

8. Some women do not realise that they are pregnant until later in the pregnancy, because they are taking contraceptives, because they are menopausal, or because their periods do not stop. Young women in particular may also go into denial, a serious psychological phenomenon, before they find the courage to approach their GP.

9. Even taking these cases into account, only a tiny proportion (1.5%) of terminations take place after 20 weeks, and 90% of all abortions in the UK are carried out before 12 weeks.

10. Accessing an abortion is already difficult and traumatic enough. The UK does not have abortion on demand, unlike many European countries - it can take months for a woman to have a termination, and hostile doctors can make the process more difficult or delay women in the system until beyond 20 weeks, especially for Irish women who have crossed the sea to access
abortion services in the UK.

11. Only 15% of fetuses born before 23 weeks survive to leave their neo-natal units, and most will suffer severe health and/or physical problems. Babies born as prematurely as 21-22 weeks are nearly always born brain damaged and severely disabled - meaning that they may have very little quality of life to look forward to.

12. There is no option for ‘viable’ fetuses to be removed from the womb early, so women who carry unwanted pregnancies to term after 20 weeks are forced to carry the growing fetus in their body for months more and then undergo labour, causing permanent physical scars, pain and trauma.

13. When women have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, they risk losing their jobs and damaging their long-term mental and physical health.

14. Fetuses cannot feel pain until much later in the pregnancy, according to experts. “The idea of fetal pain is an absurd and cruel one,” said Dr Stuart Derbyshire PhD, a researcher at Birmingham University.

15. Fetuses are never ‘alive’ after abortions: their brains are not developed enough to sense, think or feel pain.

16. Lowering the time limit to 20 weeks will create a black market trade in unsafe late-term abortions, endangering thousands of women’s lives. Eighty thousand women every year die from complications following backstreet abortions. We don’t want that to start happening in the UK.

17. Fetuses are not viable at 20 weeks: they cannot survive alone, and keeping them alive outside the womb requires complicated and expensive medical technology. Even with that technology few survive for long, causing incredible heartbreak to all involved. The idea that fetuses usually survive alone before 24 weeks is “a cruel deception for prospective parents with
premature babies,” according to Dr Evan Harris MP.

18. Safe, legal abortions at 20-24 weeks rarely have negative psychological effects - but the mental trauma of undergoing an unwanted pregnancy can last a lifetime.

19. In this country, we do not legislate over moral questions such as adultery, and abortion laws should not be the exception to that proud tradition. It is unacceptable to make laws on a moral question where there is any doubt. Pro-life campaigners are already free to make their views heard and to influence individual decisions.

20. The right of a woman to decide what happens to her own body should not be subject to the whims of changing public opinion.

21. Keeping late-term abortion legal will mean that abortions which are going to happen anyway will be carried out safely and hygenically. Many thousands of abortions up to and beyond 24 weeks happened annually before abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967. Those abortions were unsafe and many women died as a result. ‘We used to see women from the local community
bleeding to death in accident and emergency after backstreet abortions,’ said retired nurse Iris Fudge.

22. Seventy-six percent of the United Kingdom is pro-choice. The majority of women in the UK want their rights to safe, legal termination to be protected.

23. Those who are campaigning to reduce the time limit want to end legal abortion entirely - a dangerous and arcane concept. Reducing the time limit will bring them one step closer to their goals.

24. If faced with an unintended pregnancy, a woman in consultation with her doctor is the best person to decide on how to proceed.

What you can do:

*Use the Coalition for Choice website to get in touch with your MP and urge them to support the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

*Call or go to see your MP and make sure they turn up to vote on the day. Unless they're a frothing Tory, in which case tell them that all the cocaine in Glasgow is going to be free for one day only.

*If you have the time, please come to the crisis protest called by Abortion Rights:

Emergency Protest – as MPs vote on women’s abortion rights
Tuesday 20 May, 5.30pm
Outside Parliament, W1, London


  1. I attended the lobby of Parliament the other day (my Tory MP couldn't be arsed to turn up when I "green carded" her!!) and later the meeting which wasn't as big as the meeting a couple of mths ago. I do think that this is a very good time for pro-choice MPs to put in amendments such as scrapping the archaic and patriarchal 2 doctors signatures and extending the '67 Act to the north of Ireland but it seems the cross-party of pro-choice MPS are just concentrating on defending the time limits which is correct but it doesn't stop them from putting forward their own amendments.

    I just think it is a wasted opportunity to liberalise abortion as there won't be another window of opportunity esp. if the Tories win the next election (a very very BIG possiblity) and Cameron is in favour of lowering the time limits.

    Btw: I thought it was utterly surreal for Nadine Dorries to include in her "20 reasons..." list, "David "call me Dave" Cameron supports lowering the time limits.....

    I wrote a report on my own blog re the lobby of Parliament called by Abortion Rights

  2. I am not questioning that 24 weeks is a good idea, but thought I would point out a factual error -

    I think it was reason 6? Foetuses with an abnormality can legally be aborted up to term. See
    1d. As far as I've heard, no one is planning to change that bit.

    I would also question your claim that abortions don't cause psychological problems in the way that unwanted children do. Abortions are a huge psychological issue for many people that have them. That *doesn't* mean I don't think they should have the option. But being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion.


  3. OK, that link didn't work but you can go to and search for abortion act 1967, it's section 1.d.

  4. How much of this is Dorries Karloff sincere about and how much has it to do with raising her profile? When was the last time a female Tory MP commanded this much attention from the left?

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