BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE POLITICIAN who led the drive for legal abortion in the United Kingdom has called for the time limit for socalled “social” abortions to be slashed by half from 24 to 12 weeks.
But pro-life organisations treated the remarks of Lord Steel of Aikwood with caution, with one lobby group warning its supporters that any attempt to amend the abortion law during the current Parliament would result in further liberalisation.
In a surprise intervention into the debate on abortion, Lord Steel argued that the 24week limit should be scrapped because complica tions could be detected earlier thanks to advances in prenatal screening.
The peer also voiced concern that some babies were capable of survival if born at 22 or 23 weeks into the pregnancy.
Newspapers have reported instances where aborted babies have survived the operation only to be discarded to die in hospital dishes afterwards.
Images in the Press last month of a 12-week-old baby walking in its mother’s womb also demonstrated the humanity of the unborn child to the general public.
In 1966, as the 28-year-old Liberal MP for Roxburgh, David Steel introduced his Private Member’s Bill, the Medical Terminations of Pregnancies Bill, which later became the 1967 Abortion Act.
Since the Act became law, Lord Steel has consistently voted against any attempt to restrict it. He opposed the Bill introduced by fellow Liberal MP David Alton in 1987 to reduce the upper time limit to 18 weeks and in 1990, when the upper limit was lowered from 28 to 24 weeks, he voted for a clause to allow abortion up to 40 weeks if the child was disabled, which was successfully included.
But in this week’s Scotland on Sunday, Lord Steel said: “If it’s simply the decision of the mother then the limit should be 12 weeks. When we introduced the Act it was always the intention that the operation should be carried out as early as possible.
“Advances in medical technology mean that a large number of problems and abnormalities are now detectable at an earlier stage. Also, a foetus can survive at an earlier stage than it could in the past.” His comments were welcomed by Lord Alton and Julia Millington of the ProLife Party — who said they reflected public opinion — but they were met with scepticism from Life and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc). Antony Ozimic, political secretary of Spuc, said: “Lord Steel’s proposal is not aimed at reducing the numbers of abortions, as his call for a general ban on abortions after 12 weeks was accompanied with a promotion of abortion on demand before 12 weeks.” He said: “Parliamentarians must not be deceived by such Trojan Horses which hide an agenda for total deregulation of abortion.
“It is essential that legislative proposals aimed at changing the abortion law are not put to Parliament in this, the most anti-life Parliament in history, because we are certain that a majority of MPs would vote to make abortion even more widely available.
“The pro-abortion lobby are not only actively campaigning for abortion on demand but also for abortions to be performed by non-doctors, the specific targeting of nurses to become abortionists and the provision of chemical abortion in family planning clinics.” A spokeswoman for Life said she welcomed any measure which reduced the “amount of destruction of unborn children”.
But she added: “David Steel is not repenting of the slaughter which his Bill has unleashed. He is simply saying that since fatal abnormalities can now be detected earlier than hitherto, his eugenic purpose no longer requires a law which allows disabled children to be killed up to birth.” Health Secretary John Reid, a Catholic who has supported a ban on abortions after 18 weeks, told BBC’s Breakfast With Frost that the Government had no plans to amend the Abortion Act.
Mr Reid said: “I want to make it clear that this is a conscience decision, in the sense that people are allowed to vote freely according to their own conscience. It is not government sponsored.
“Roughly once every five or six years there is a debate on this. It is not up to me as a Minister to decide, this is up to Parliament.”