Three in four abortions after 17 weeks of pregnancy are carried out privately because NHS doctors are increasingly reluctant to perform them.
Figures from the Department of Health show that of the 7,021 abortions of pregnancies between 17 and 24 weeks carried out in England and Wales in 2006, 5,453 were performed outside the NHS.
This is due to a “marked reluctance” among NHS staff to carry out late abortions, says consultant gynaecologist and former medical director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Vincent Argent.
“This isn’t the result of childish squeamishness,” said Dr Argent, “these are healthcare professionals trained in dealing with any sort of medical situation. But late abortions conflict with everything doctors and nurses are trained to do – preserve life.”
The Christian Institute recently found in a poll that 60 per cent of people, and seven in ten women, want to see the upper time limit for abortion decreased.
Amendments to the law on abortion as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be subject to a free vote. Attempts will be made to lower the upper time limit for abortion, but also to make it easier for women to access early abortions by removing the requirement for two doctors’ approval.
There were fears that an attempt could be made to impose legalized abortion on Northern Ireland, where it is currently unlawful. A joint letter from the leaders of the four main parties in Northern Ireland called on MPs in the rest of the UK to resist such a move. No such amendment has yet been tabled.
Abortion will be considered by MPs in a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday, 20 May.