Abortion laws ‘are arcane’

Britain’s leading pregnancy service has called for a review of abortion laws and for current restrictions requiring two doctors to authorise terminations to be changed.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) wants just one doctor to be able to authorise abortions and for some nurses to be able to dispense the abortion poll in the early stages of pregnancy, before a woman reaches her ninth week.

There were nearly 200,000 terminations carried out in the UK in 2005 – a rise of 20 per cent from 1995 – and Bpas handles around 50,000 a year.

An Ipsos/Mori poll for Bpas, published today, finds 63 per cent still support a woman’s right to choose. However, the survey of more than 2,000 finds there has been a shift to the middle ground, with fewer people holding “very strong” opinions for or against abortion.

“As at least one in three women in the UK can expect to have an abortion, it is not surprising that support for legal abortion remains quite strong – despite shrill campaigns by individuals who would like to see tighter laws,” said Bpas chief executive Ann Furedi.

She also described abortion as “a necessary back-up to birth control” for family planning, saying: “No woman ever wants to need to have an abortion, but those who do not want it to be legal are in a minority.”

Bpas was also “pleased to see” that people supported the existing legal limit of 24 weeks. The abortion debate has recently focused on whether this should be reduced, although health secretary Patricia Hewitt this summer said she had no plans to change the limit.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris agreed, telling politics.co.uk the legal limit was “based on viability”. The number of people strongly supporting or opposing abortion had fallen because it had “become less contentious”, he argued.

However, Brook Advisory Centre, which provides sexual health advice for young people, told politics.co.uk support was falling because there had been “a lot of publicity about, including images of foetuses and descriptions of them as ‘walking in the womb'”.

“We think it’s really important that where young people have made up their mind that the process should be as smooth as possible,” said head of policy and development Val Buxton.

Anti-abortion campaigners have accused Bpas of trying to promoter its own agenda. “This rather thin and inconclusive polling data adds nothing useful to the debate on abortion,” Life spokeswoman Michaela Aston said.

She added: “We question why the British public should take this data at face value. Bpas is, after all, a business and one that makes money from the provision of abortion and abortion-related services. Of course they are defending the lucrative status quo.”