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Abortion Debate Rages On


Active Member
Sep 10, 2004
Should it be a baby's right to life or a woman's right to choose?

The age-old debate is one that provokes a strong emotional response, no matter what your belief.

Yesterday, it was the turn of doctors to consider whether medical advances, which mean a baby born at 24 weeks has a "viable" chance of survival, should result in the legal time limit for abortions being lowered.

Delegates voted 77pc against the motion, believing that late abortions were distressing, but often necessary if a pregnancy was detected late or severe abnormalities were discovered.

At 24 weeks - the cut off for abortions set under the 1967 Abortion Act - a foetus has fully formed arms and legs, it can hear, has all its internal organs, though they are not fully functioning - and fits into the palm of an adult hand.

Dr Mark Dyke, a neonatal consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney, said: "Based on data from a national study published three or four years ago called Epicure, the survival rate for babies at 24 weeks is approximately 40pc.

"They are born with a lot of problems including breathing difficulties, immature stiff lungs and poor breathing control, which requires the support of a ventilator.

"They are prone to infection because of an immature immune system and they can have problems with the gut and are susceptible to brain haemorrhages and brain damage."

Taking the decision to terminate, particularly at this late stage, could be the biggest choice a woman would ever have to make.

In 2003, 181,600 abortions were carried out on women in England and Wales, with a further 9100 on non-residents, mainly from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

This equates to 16.6 abortions per 1000 women aged 15 to 44.

But the vast majority - 87pc - were carried out at less than 13 weeks gestation, and 58pc under 10 weeks.

John McQueen, who proposed the motion, said in the past babies born at 28 weeks just died.

"Since then there have been enormous developments.

"Ventilation has become standard, which was the first thing to improve the care of babies.

"The use of steroids in premature labour has also helped enormously," he said.

Mr McQueen, from Bromley, said a small number of babies were now surviving as young as 23 weeks, although often with a high level of disability.

He said it was very important that there should be a clear window between the viability of a foetus and the upper limit for abortion.

But in an emotional speech, Dr Jan Wise called for delegates to reject any moves to lower the time limit.

He pointed out that only a small number of abortions were carried out after 20 weeks - often because of difficulties accessing services.