Experts call for abortion laws to be modernised

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A group of medical experts today called for a change in the abortion laws which would enable women to have greater freedom of choice

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A total of 85 medical law and ethics specialists want parts of the abortion legislation to be modernised.

In a letter printed in the Times newspaper, they call for the qualifying conditions on abortion that require women to obtain signed permission from two doctors before the procedure can take place, to be scrapped.

The letter said the law was outdated and no longer appropriate.

The academics write that the current restrictions on where abortions are carried out are no longer justified, given medical advances.

The group also suggests that trained nurses should be allowed to carry out abortions.

The controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will return to the House of Commons for further debate in the coming weeks.

A cross-party group of MPs have tabled a series of amendments to the abortion law.

The amendments include allowing abortion-inducing drugs to be taken in the home as well as reducing the number of doctors needed to approve terminations from two to one.

The plans are sure to be vigorously opposed by pro-life MPs.

If successful, they would be the first changes to the 1967 Abortion Act since 1990, when the 28-week maximum period for terminations was reduced to 24 weeks.

An attempt to further cut the limit to 22 weeks was defeated in the Commons in May.



One of the signatories to the letter, Kent University professor of law Sally Sheldon, said that any woman who wants an abortion within the 24-week legal limit should be allowed to have one without having first to obtain the approval of two doctors.

Prof Sheldon told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "In this country, at no stage in pregnancy does the woman have the right simply to request a termination. Legally, that decision is always going to belong to two doctors.

"What the signatories to the letter are saying is that the Abortion Act we have was passed in 1967 and is very firmly rooted in the values of that era. That was an era when we believed that doctors knew best and doctors were better placed to take difficult medical decisions.

"Forty years on, medical law has moved on, ethical thinking has moved on, and we have a much stronger sense of patient autonomy and the role of the doctor being to support patients to take decisions about whether to go ahead with a particular treatment.

"What we are saying is the Abortion Act is out of date, it is in need of modernisation, and we are asking Parliament to take the opportunity in front of it next week to bring the legislation up to date for the 21st century."

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