More very premature babies are surviving “than ever before”, figures published in the British Medical Journal show.
Overall, for babies born between 22 and 25 weeks, chances of survival increased from 40 per cent to 53 per cent between 1995 and 2006.
For babies born at 23 weeks the chances of survival rose by 9.5 per cent. The abortion limit is 24 weeks.
Prof Neil Marlow, from the University College London Institute for Women’s Health, said: “Our findings show that more babies now survive being born too soon than ever before, which is testament to the highly-skilled and dedicated staff in our neonatal services.
“But as the number of children that survive pre-term birth continues to rise, so will the number who experience disability throughout their lives.
“This is likely to have an impact on the demand for health, education and social care services”.
Prof Kate Costeloe, lead author of the study, said she believed it was possible to improve the survival rate for those born in the 23rd week of pregnancy.
Commenting that work is needed to improve understanding and protection of the developing brain and lungs, she said: “I still think we can do things better than we are”.
In England, Scotland and Wales abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but is also permitted up to the point of birth for babies with a substantial risk of “serious” disability.
However babies with treatable conditions including cleft palate and club foot have been aborted under this law.