Abortion time limit amendments votes

In a nutshell

A series of votes on whether to reduce the period of time during which an abortion can legally be carried out. MPs had liberty to vote according to their conscience.

The details

On 20 May 2008 MPs voted on a series of amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act. The amendments were tabled as part of the scrutiny of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Commons.

The amendments proposed reducing the upper gestational age limit for abortion from 24 weeks. All the amendments were rejected. This is the sequence of the votes taken and the record of the votes cast:

  • 12 weeks: lost by 393 votes to 71
  • 16 weeks: lost by 387 votes to 84
  • 20 weeks: lost by 332 votes to 190
  • 22 weeks: lost by 304 votes to 233

Introducing the first of the amendments, Edward Leigh MP said:

“There is rightly much talk in the House about human rights and the rights of the vulnerable. In my personal view, there is just one, overwhelming, fundamental human right: the right to life.”1

How we recorded the vote

  • Voted against reducing the abortion limit from 24 weeks
  • Voted for reducing the abortion limit to 22 weeks
  • Voted for reducing the abortion limit to 20 weeks
  • Voted for reducing the abortion limit to 16 weeks
  • Voted for reducing the abortion limit to 12 weeks
  • Abstained or was absent on a series of votes for reducing the abortion limit from 24 weeks

The only defensible pro-life position was to vote for 12 weeks, the lowest on offer. However, voting for the other amendments at least showed a desire for some reduction to the limit. In our analysis, voting against all four reduction amendments was taken to be a vote against any reduction in the 24-week limit.

Voting examples

Our statement of an MP’s position describes their ‘first choice’ vote on the four amendments. For example:

Edward Leigh voted as his ‘first choice’ for a 12-week limit. Even though he went on to support the other reductions after the option of 12 weeks was defeated, as a 12-week limit was his ‘first choice’, this is what we record.

David Davis voted for a 22-week limit but against the other reductions, so 22 weeks was recorded as his ‘first choice’.

Diane Abbott voted against all four amendments. Therefore, we have taken her preferred choice to be the existing 24-week limit.

  1. 1House of Commons, Hansard, 20 May 2008, col. 224