Frank Field MP House of Commons London SW1 OAA October 16th 1987 Dear David When we met last week you told me that you intend to introduce a single clause bill. This will have the aim of making illegal any abortion carried out after the 18th week of pregnancy.
While I believe there has been a change of opinion recently in this country which supports a change in the law, this being a movement very much reflected in my own opinion, I shall not be voting for your bill as it stands. Given the importance many of my constituents will attach to your bill, I thought it would be worthwhile setting out why I have come to this conclusion.
Many people regard every abortion as a tragedy, and some would express their distaste in stronger terms. It is well worth remembering that over 170,000 foetuses a year are destroyed by abortion.
In an ideal world, there would be no abortions at all. Sadly, however, we have yet to introduce such a world. Each of us, therefore, has to make a crucial choice on how we should move to a more desirable state of affairs. Both of us accept that a bill to abolish abortion outright would be defeated. The choice is, therefore, what modification to present law should be pressed.
I believe the only logical outcome is to lower the time limit on legal abortions to that point at which the foetus can survive independently from the mother.
Since the passing of David Steel's Act in 1967, this time limit has clearly changed, as medical science has improved the chances of premature babies surviving after 22 weeks. It is at this point that the baby's lungs can function.
I think your bill is mistaken in aiming for 18 rather than 22 weeks. Indeed, I think you will meet such resistance on this that you will endanger the bill's chances of surviving a second reading.
If you are prepared to consider more than a single clause bill, you could also request that the Secretary of State should report annually to Parliament on whether this time limit should be changed.
The mechanism for that change could be statutory instrument which could easily be effected. An annual reporting would also have the advantage of Parliament regularly debating this issue. A wider bill also offer' the opportunity of debating other issues which need consideration. You could request the Secretary of State to report anually on how effective the health education budget is on teaching methods of family planning which prevent an abortion in the first place.
I know this is a sensitive issue for Catholics, and here I interpret the meaning of this initiative broadly so that the Church would be happy with the outcome. It seems to me wrong that the Govermnment has the willpower and has found the resources to sponsor an antiAIDS campaign costing millions of pounds and telling people to use sheaths, while no equivalent effort is put into a campaign which would make many of the calls for abortion unnecessary.
A wide bill would also allow you to empower the Secretary of State to police the existing Act more effectively. When Parliament passed the 1967 Act, few, if any envisaged that abortion would be so easily available. That whole question should at least be debated again, and could be part of the Secretary of State's annual report to Parliament.
You could also request him to fund and monitor a genuinely independent counselling service for women who are contemplating abortion, as at the moment, much of the counselling is done by charities who also provide abortions.
A bill along these lines would command much wider support than the one you propose. Getting the measure onto the Statue Book is, however, not the only consideration. A more comprehensive bill would lessen the numbers of abortions, in part owing to the reduced numbers of women needing an abortion in the first place. Your bill will reduce the numbers of women legally able to have an abortion, while in no way addressing the circumstances giving a rise to the need, and may drive women to seek back-street abortions, which is doubly counter-productive.