Conservative Health Spokesman Andrew Lansley MP has asked MPs to consider making abortion even easier to access in Great Britain.
Mr Lansley made the comments in a speech to the House of Commons as the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill received its Second Reading.
Mr Lansley asserted that “there continue to be far too many abortions”, and argued that “it must surely be better for it to be an early, medical abortion than a later, surgical one.”
He continued: “I therefore hope that the House will consider whether the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed, and the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions, needs to be maintained.”
The requirement for two doctors’ signatures was a measure introduced to protect both the patient and the practitioner involved in abortion. Similarly, the fact that nurses are not allowed to carry out medical (drug-induced) abortions reflects the seriousness of the procedure. The British Medical Association has said it does not support nurses stepping into this role.
Anecdotal evidence has been used to claim that these rules make abortion difficult to access. However, recent figures show that the UK currently has one of the highest abortion rates in Western Europe, with over 200,000 abortions carried out every year.
It is clear that any woman who wants an abortion can have one.
But there are serious concerns that removing the requirement for the two signatures would deny many women the opportunity to think again about whether to go ahead with an abortion. It would increase abortion rates still further.
Many MPs were reportedly taken aback that the party’s Health Spokesman should back such highly controversial proposals from the despatch box while claiming that he spoke in a personal capacity. Government Ministers have not gone as far as Mr Lansley to back abortion on demand.
Mr Lansley also told MPs that recent scientific evidence about the survival rates of premature babies meant that the upper time limit for abortion should only be reduced to 22 weeks.
Another Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries, pointed out that with good care survival rates among very premature babies are significantly improved.
Mrs Dorries is campaigning to reduce the time limit for abortion to 20 weeks. Amendments for reducing the limit even further have also been tabled.