Last Saturday, Jeremy Hunt MP, the new Health Secretary, commented in an interview with the Times that he remained of the opinion that the upper age limit for an abortion should be reduced to 12 weeks. His comments on lowering the upper limit for abortion came as Maria Miller MP, the new Women’s Minister, and Theresa May MP, the Home Secretary, also expressed their views that the upper limit for abortion should be lowered.
Although these claims caused consternation in some circles, it should not come as too much of a surprise. During passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008, a number of the current members of the Cabinet voted to lower the current upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks. As Dr Peter Saunders notes in a comprehensive blogpost, ‘Of these, three, including Mr Hunt, voted for 12 weeks, two voted for 16 weeks, seven voted for 20 weeks and one, the Prime Minister David Cameron, voted for 22 weeks.’
Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Health, in answer to a question in the House of Lords this week confirmed: ‘…the Government have no plans to review the Abortion Act 1967. It is parliamentary practice that any proposals to change the abortion laws come from Back-Bench Members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.’
It remains to be seen whether an MP will attempt to introduce a fresh attempt to change the law on abortion, but it is certainly encouraging to see ministers expressing their opinions on a subject which provokes such strong reactions.