Conservative Party leader applauds 'sensible' calls to deregulate early abortions
BY SIMON CALDWELL
DAVID CAMERON has signalled his support for abortion on demand in the early stages of pregnancy.
The Conservative Party leader said it would "practical and sensible" to abolish the requirement of the consent of two doctors before an abortion can go ahead.
He also indicated that he was in favour of easing the restrictions of the 1967 Abortion Act to allow nurses as well as doctors to provide terminations.
Mr Cameron's stance has dismayed pro-life MPs who have traditionally counted on Tory support for their campaigns for tougher abortion laws. Last month Mr Cameron backed fellow Tory Nadine Dorries's unsuccessful attempt to lower the upper-time-limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks. But he now made clear that although he is generally opposed to late-term "social" abortions he would like to see access to earlier abortion made easier.
His comments came in a letter from his office, written with his approval, to John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
The letter expressed Mr Cameron's support for Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, who last month urged MPs to "consider whether the request for two doctors to provide approval, and the restriction on a nurse providing a medical abortion require to be maintained".
It said: "Andrew was advocating that early, medical abortions are preferable to late, surgical ones. Therefore, Andrew was in favour of amending the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion being performed and for reviewing the restrictions on nurses providing medical abortions.
"As David is in favour of allowing women to have abortions, but supports a reduction to the abortion limit. He thinks that this is a practical and sensible proposal."
Mr Lansley had argued that it was better for a woman to have an earlier abortion, using drugs rather than surgery, than to have a later abortion.
Amendments to liberalise Britain's controversial abortion laws have been tabled by the Lib Dem MP Evan Harris and the Labour backbencher Christine McCafferty, both abortion campaigners.
The pair seek to introduce abortion on demand in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy by scrapping the requirement of two doctors to be satisfied that any abortion meets the legal criteria necessary for it to go ahead.
Instead, all that will be necessary is for a "registered medical practitioner" to be of the opinion that the abortion will be carried out "in accordance with the conditions of good medical practice-.
At present, abortion is a criminal offence in Britain unless certain conditions, stipulated in the Act, are met.
A further amendment tabled by Dr Harris and the former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson extends the definition of "registered health practitioner to nurses and midwives so that they, as well as doctors, can provide abortions. The amendments will be moved at the Report Stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in July.
Although abortion is treated as an issue of conscience by all parties Mr Cameron's stance will send a message to Tory MPs that such changes are desirable. With the Tory leaderShip refusing to oppose the de-regulation of abortion the proposed changes are likely to pass into law. The Government has already indi
cated it would not oppose such a move.
Labour backbencher Jim Dobbin, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary ProLife Group, has accused Mr Cameron of "supporting the abortion industry".
"I think, quite honestly, that at a time when there is a changed mood in the country on the issue of abortion and when people are beginning to
accept that there are far too many abortions, it is just bizarre for the leader of the Conservative Party to support the deregulation of early abortions,said Mr Dobbin. "He will upset a lot of people in the Conservative Party."
Mr Smeaton, who had written to Mr Cameron in protest at Mr Lansley's comments, said that liberalisation of the abortion law would inevitably lead to an increase in the numbers of abortions.
"Loosening restrictions, however minimal, on abortion will increase pressures on mothers-to-he to solve any difficulties they face by aborting their children," he said. "Research indicates that most women who undergo an abortion do so under pressure. Proposals supported by David Cameron will only increase those pressures and increase the killing of the unborn."
The votes on reductions in the upper time limits for abortion last month revealed a number of senior Tories opposed any moves to tighten up the law.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was among those to vote against lowering the limit from 24 to 22 weeks. Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers voted the same way.
Miss Dorries, a former nurse, had hoped for widespread support for her "20 reasons for 20 weeks" campaign to slash the limit by four weeks.
While Mr Cameron has said he would like to see the upper limit cut, there was surprise among MPs when he permitted Mr Lansley to introduce an amendment for a 22-week reduction. Some MF's interpreted the move to be a "wrecking amendment" aimed at stopping Miss Dorries from drawing the support she needed.
Both the British Medical Association and Lord Steel, the architect of Britain's abortion laws, have publicly supported the idea of allowing "abortion on request". Such a policy operates in many European countries. though access to late-term abortions is generally more restrictive than in Britain.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest provider of abortions in Britain, has indicated, however, that scrapping the two-signature requirement would not reduce late-term abortions.
At present there are about 200,000 abortions carried out in Britain each year and about a third of the 131000 performed before 10 weeks used medical rather than kirgical methods.
The Government is supporting moves for increased access to early medical abortions in a variety of locations, including GPs surgeries and family planning centres.
The proposed plans will not be without controversy, however. An inquest at Flax Bourton, near Bath, heard earlier this month, for instance, how Manon Jones, an 18year-old Bristol student, died following a bout of heavy bleeding two weeks after the medical abortion of her sixweek foetus.