MP seeks abortion law review

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The Independent Online
A Powerful Commons committee is to be asked to carry out a major investigation into the workings of the abortion and fertilisation laws in the wake of the "aborted-twin" and multiple-pregnancy controversies.

The all-party Select Committee on Health will be urged to set up an inquiry when Parliament reassembles in late October.

Elizabeth Peacock, Conservative MP for Batley and Spen, said yesterday she was writing to Marion Roe, chairman of the committee, proposing the setting-up of an immediate examination into the whole field of abortion. "They could get straight into an inquiry," she said. "They can call evidence on what is actually happening out there. This is a good time to review the implementation of the law."

The Government has no plans at this stage to intervene, but is waiting for a lead from MPs. Health minister John Horam said: "We are watching the situation very carefully, but this is a matter for Parliament. By tradition, governments have been neutral and have not taken the initiative."

Dame Jill Knight MP, chairman of the Conservative back-bench health committee, said: "Parliament should make it clear to the medical profession that the way the law has turned out was not what was intended.Parliament did not mean that you could get rid of a child for no better reason than that the mother didn't want it."

She seeks two possible changes: a requirement for three doctors, rather than two, to sign a certificate for an abortion, and a clear division between those who authorise it and those carrying it out.

David Congdon, Tory MP for Croydon North East and a member of the select committee, said the 1967 Abortion Act had not been intended to provide abortion on demand. "It is absolutely clear that it now does. The so-called counselling that is supposed to go on is a farce. It merits an inquiry."

However, Labour members of the committee are likely to argue that an investigation into children's health, which is currently under way, should take precedence over the abortion controversy.

Moves to mobilise a select committee inquiry will also be supplemented by all-party attempts to promote a private member's bill on the issue.

The political row over Mandy Allwood, a 31-year-old woman carrying eight foetuses after fertility treatment on the NHS, grew yesterday after Solihull Health Authority refused to pay the pounds 500,000 cost of managing her pregnancy in a London hospital.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the authority was quite entitled to decide not to pay for her if adequate treatment was available locally. "But," he added, "local health authorities are not the right bodies to have the final say, as they will always want to save money and be naturally biased in favour of treating patients locally. If you are being treated by the NHS there should be a right of appeal to a body with national responsibility."