Hunt’s ‘shocking’ abortion comments generate controversy

By staff

David Cameron's bid to detoxify the Conservatives on the NHS this weekend has been undermined by his health secretary's abortion comments.

Jeremy Hunt generated intense controversy yesterday when he admitted supporting preventing women from having abortions after 12 weeks, as opposed to the current 24 weeks.

"There's an incredibly difficult question about the moment we should deem life to start," Hunt told the Times newspaper yesterday.

"There are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime.

"There are all sorts of arguments in terms of deterrence and justice, but also there is a fundamental moral issue that sits behind it… You can be a strong feminist and have a view one way or the other on abortion."

The prime minister made clear that Hunt was offering his personal view only and that the government's policy was unchanged, but pro-choice groups have expressed deep alarm.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said Hunt's comments were "insulting to women".

"If everybody had to have abortions by 12 weeks, my worry would be that women would be rushed into making decisions. That's an absolute shocker," spokeswoman Kate Guthrie told the Times newspaper.

"You will absolutely create mental health problems if you start dragooning women into making decisions before they have to."

Home secretary Theresa May has said she believes there is "scope" for a reduction, perhaps to 20 weeks.

Appearing on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Cameron agreed with that point of view. But he insisted: "The government hasn't got any plans to bring forward any legislation or bill."

Hunt's comments effectively derailed Cameron's bid to make the weekend about his commitment to the NHS.

Yesterday the prime minister announced £100 million of funding for new software which will open up more time for nurses to spend with patients.

A further £40 million is being earmarked for training to boost the leadership skills of ward sisters and community team leaders.

"We're only able to do this because we're the only party, the only people, who said 'whatever else we have to do, whatever other cuts we have to make, we are not cutting the NHS budget, we're increasing it," Cameron said.

"That was my pledge, that's what we are doing."