The number of babies born weighing just 2lbs has more than doubled in the last two years, causing pro-lifers to reinforce the demand to lower the abortion limit from 24 weeks.
Statistics do not disclose at what stage the babies were born but reports suggest that a child weighing under 2lbs 3oz is likely to have been born at least three months early.
This would inevitably include some babies being born at an age when they could, in other circumstances, have been aborted.
The number of tiny babies stillborn has almost halved during the same time span.
The latest figures, from the NHS Information Centre, show that in 2008/09, some 3,836 children weighing under 2lbs 3oz (1kg) were born in England and Wales. That is a 115 per cent rise on 2006/07.
A spokesman for the ProLife Alliance said: “These statistics are yet more proof that more and more babies are being born very prematurely and surviving.
“The evidence is increasingly showing that the 24-week limit allows the abortion of babies capable of surviving.
“The momentum for lowering the limit is increasing and opposition can only be described as ideological.”
Nadine Dorries, a Tory MP and former nurse, led a failed attempt in 2008 to cut the limit during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill though Parliament.
She said: “The push to lower the limit made everyone aware what happens during foetal development and when. This information reinforces the need to lower the limit as a matter of urgency.”
A number of parents of early born babies have called for the upper time limit for abortion to be lowered from 24 weeks.
“Premature little fighter”
In June last year Jessica Hawkins was born at just 23 weeks weighing just 1lb 7oz and could fit in the palm of her father’s hand.
Mum Sam Hawkins said: “It’s spooky to think that Jessica was born at a week before the legal limit and she was a baby and fed and pooed.”
Six months on Jessica remained small for her age but otherwise showed no sign of the tense circumstances of her birth.
She passed all her sight and hearing tests and developed an awareness of surrounding objects like any other healthy child.
“Living proof laws need updating”
In January 2009 the mother of a baby girl who survived after being born at 23 weeks said her daughter is “living proof” that the abortion law needs updating.
Sarah Slater, initially went into labour at just 22 weeks, and gave birth less than a week later. Lexie weighed just 1lb 8oz.
Miss Slater said at the time: “We’re so glad to have Lexie home with us at last and it just shows how outmoded our laws on abortion are.
“Some mothers-to-be would be able to legally terminate their pregnancy at 23 weeks – yet my Lexie is living proof babies can survive being born so prematurely.
“I never realised a baby would be so well developed at 23 weeks and they do have a chance of life.”
“We never gave up”
Another baby born at 23 weeks, Chloe Wilson, who was given a ten per cent chance of survival by doctors, has also been allowed to go home from hospital.
Chloe’s twin Ellie sadly died 30 days after the girls were delivered. Their parents, Michelle and Steven Wilson, were warned that at just 1lb 2oz Chloe had only a faint chance of survival.
“There was a point when we thought it would never happen – especially when we were first told that she only had a 10 per cent chance of survival,” said Mrs Wilson.
“But we never gave up. Now she’s doing absolutely fine and every now and again we get a little smile from her.”
“He is a happy and healthy little boy”
In 2008 Ethan Currill arrived at 24 weeks, he weighed just 1lb 14oz. he was so small that his father Edward’s gold wedding band fitted over his arm.
His mother said: “Now, aged 17 months, he is only about a month behind his peers in development.
“He is being treated for asthma but otherwise is a happy and healthy little boy.
“Not all babies born at 24 weeks make it, but Ethan is living proof that they can.
“For people to abort babies at that stage is madness.”