British doctors debate abortion laws

In Britain doctors at the British Medical Association (BMA) conference in Manchester, are debating whether the legal time limit for abortion should be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks.

While some in the profession believe advances in medical science, which allow very premature babies to survive, means abortion legislation should be revisited, other doctors and sexual health campaigners believe any change will harm women who for a variety of reasons seek a late termination.

The abortion time limit issue has not been debated by the BMA since 1989 and the organisation has not as yet passed any opinion on the matter.

A BMA spokeswoman did however say that the BMA currently views the Abortion Act as a practical and humane piece of legislation and believes this law should be extended to Northern Ireland.

She added that motions in this year's annual meeting reflected a feeling by doctors that there should be debate on whether advances in neo-natal care impact on the current abortion legislation.

Increased pressure has been applied by pro-life campaigners in recent years, for a reduction in the abortion time limit due to medical advances which have allowed babies born under 24 weeks to survive.

Revolutionary ultrasound scans which show pictures of a 12-week-old foetus appearing to "walk" in the womb have added to the debate.

Sexual health campaigners are concerned as they believe changing the law may make matters worse for women in desperate situations.

Regardless of the general 24-week limit, abortion is still allowed up until birth if the baby is found to be severely disabled or the mother's life is at risk.

Cases such as these are extremely rare and the vast majority of terminations are carried out at fewer than 13 weeks.


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