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MPs should be allowed to debate abortion law on 22nd October

Published 21 October 2008

Please see below for BPAS’ comment on the action reportedly being taken by the UK government to block the first Commons debate on abortion law for eighteen years (see today’s Guardian front page).


Not allowing MPs to debate abortion on October 22 means that there will be no foreseeable way for Parliament to authorise evidence-based legal change which is needed for patients. The proposed changes are supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nursing and British Medical Association and the findings of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s 2007 report ‘Scientific Developments Relating to the Abortion Act 1967’


Reports claim that the government’s decision not to permit MPs to vote on abortion is because of fears that the House of Lords would attack abortion law. The previous voting records of the House of Commons on amendments to the HFE Bill show that this is unfounded. The Lords have already rejected several non-evidence based measures on abortion and embryo research and fertility treatment during the passage of the HFE Bill.


The new clauses which MPs may be prevented from voting on are aimed at modernising the law to give women access to abortion earlier. These are evidence-based measures with the support of the medical and nursing professions. 

Please call the BPAS press office on 07788 725 185 for more information, or to request an interview with British Pregnancy Advisory Service Chief Executive, Ann Furedi. 




The charity BPAS (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service), provides around 60,000 abortions for women each year as well as all other family planning services. In response to media reports that Harriet Harman MP, Leader of the House of Commons, is to block MPs from voting on abortion law reform tomorrow, Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS said:


‘This misguided political opportunism would amount to a shocking act of betrayal of women by government ministers who have built their careers on claiming support for women's rights.

 ‘House of Lords voting records show the reported government assertion that the Lords would reduce the time limit if abortion is discussed to be entirely baseless. In recent years, the Lords have voted for progressive positions eight times on embryo and abortion issues. These are claims made by MPs who, in May, predicted that the Commons would vote to restrict abortion. They were wrong then and are wrong now.  

‘Last week, Dawn Primarolo, the Minister for Public Health spoke to a conference organised by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority about the importance of the law keeping pace with scientific and medical developments. As a former Director of Policy as the HFEA, I understand how important legal modernisation is for infertility research and treatment. As Chief Executive of BPAS, I understand that legal modernisation is equally essential for abortion care, also a medical treatment affecting thousands of women in extremely difficult situations.


‘This debate on abortion law is acknowledged to be legally necessary to enable UK abortion care to be provided in accordance with evidence-based best practice. In 1990 a male, Conservative Secretary of State for Health enabled progressive abortion law reform as part of the debate on the first Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. How did we get to the state where a female, Labour leader of the House now prevents it?'



BPAS is the UK’s leading not-for-profit sexual healthcare provider, 92% of which care is provided on behalf of the NHS. Typical non-NHS funded clients seeking abortion have travelled to BPAS from Northern Ireland, or the Irish Republic where access to safe, legal abortion remains restricted by law, usually arriving at later gestations as a consequence.

As well as contraceptive advice and treatment, BPAS carried out around 55,000 terminations of pregnancy in 2007. BPAS has centres across England, Wales and Scotland and is a specialist provider of early and late abortions.

 In summary the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the Scientific Developments Relating to the Abortion Act 1967’, report conclusions were that:

·   ‘The Committee supports the removal of the requirement for two doctors signatures before an abortion can be carried out.. the requirement for two signatures may be causing delays in access to abortion services and [the Committee] found no evidence of its value in terms of safety.

·      Nurses and midwives with suitable training and professional guidance, should not be prevented by law from carrying out all stages of early medical and early surgical abortion. The Committee found there is no evidence that this would compromise patient safety or quality of care.

·       The Committee concludes there is no evidence relating to safety, effectiveness or patient acceptability that should deter Parliament from passing regulations which would enable women, who chose to do so, taking the second stage of early medical abortion at home. The Committee would like to see the necessary legislative change that would enable this to be pursued or at least piloted.’

·   The House of Lords voted by an unusually heavy margin (4 to 1) on 28th January 2008 to defeat a restrictive abortion amendment that would have banned all abortion for fetal abnormality. This would have forced some women to carry babies against their will that stood no chance of survival. This was a higher margin of defeat than for many of the restrictive measures aimed at embryo research and fertility treatment that the Lords rejected during the passage of the Bill.

·   The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists believes ‘that the current need for two doctors' signatures to certify that a woman is approved to undergo an abortion is anachronistic. There are no other situations where either competent men or women require permission from two third parties to make a personal healthcare decision.’

·   The RCN believes that ‘the requirement for two doctors to agree that a woman can have an abortion should be removed. We recommend a change or clarification in legislation to allow nurses and midwives to be allowed to perform early surgical abortions and to be able to prescribe Mifespristone for early medical abortions as part of a clinical team’

For more information about the different new clauses that have been put to the HFE Bill and how these would enable women to have access to abortion at the earliest possible time, please see the HFE Bill page on the Parliament website, or contact the BPAS press office.

Please contact the BPAS press office on 020 7612 0206 or 07788 725 185 to request more information or an interview with Ann Furedi.

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