It's official: the science on abortion really hasn't 'moved on'

Science 'does not justify' reduction in abortion time limit

Cabinet ministers' claims that abortion laws should be tightened because of medical advances are challenged today by official figures showing no improvement in survival for extremely premature babies.

The number of babies born at less than 24-weeks gestation who survive to mark their first birthday has not risen in the past five years. The disclosure contradicts remarks by politicians, including the Prime Minister, that medical advances have improved survival rates and that the time limit on abortions should therefore be shortened.

The new Minister for Women and Equality, Maria Miller, controversially reopened the abortion debate last week when she suggested that the current 24-week limit on abortions should be lowered because the "science has moved on" and babies were surviving at younger and younger gestational ages.

Infant mortality rates by length of gestation for 2010, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, show no improvement in survival for extremely premature babies born at 22 or 23 weeks.

Over the five years in which the ONS has collected figures, the survival rate rose from 11.6 per cent in 2006 to 13.6 per cent in 2009, before falling back to 12.2 per cent in 2010. Out of 750 babies born alive at less than 24-weeks gestation in 2010, 92 babies survived to one year. The other 658 babies died.

Ms Miller was supported by David Cameron, who said he "personally" favoured a "modest reduction" in the 24-week limit "because I think there are some medical arguments for that".

The new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, came out to say he favoured a 12-week limit on abortions, based on when he thought life began. Mr Hunt, like Ms Miller, backed a Commons attempt to reduce the time limit for abortion from 24 to 20 weeks, which was heavily defeated in 2008. The ONS figures appear to contradict Ms Miller's position by showing that survival rates for extremely premature babies have not changed since then.

Responding to the ONS figures, a spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "It is incredibly sad that survival rates for extremely premature babies are so low. These are wanted babies. But the lack of improvement in survival shows there is no scientific basis for reducing the abortion limit.

"However, science is only one component of the issue. The other is the reality and needs of women's lives. There will be women who need access to abortion [above] 20 weeks."

Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks but, in practice, very few are carried out after 20 weeks' gestation. In 2011, the number of 20 to 24-week terminations amounted to 1.4 per cent of the total of 190,000.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders