MPs are moving to make it easier and quicker for women to get abortions, without the prior approval of a doctor and, in some cases, with the procedure being carried out by a nurse.
MPs from all parties are to launch a campaign to modernise abortion law. They want to allow women to have early abortions on an "informed consent" basis and to allow trained nurses and midwives to carry out early abortions for the first time. They also want to expand the number of clinics offering early abortions so that women are no longer restricted to using centres officially licensed to carry out terminations.
But the proposed changes are expected to infuriate pro-life groups and the Catholic Church. Under the legal changes being discussed, early abortions would be obtainable without the consent of doctors, while those after 12 weeks would require only one doctor to approve, instead of the two at present.
The move will be backed by a cross-party coalition of MPs when the Human Tissue and Embryo Bill comes before the Commons and is expected to gain widespread support in Parliament.
Those backing the amendments say that the changes are designed to reduce the number of late abortions and bring the law in line with new medical advances, including the use of abortion pills to terminate early pregnancies.
Among the MPs backing the changes are Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, and John Bercow, the Tory MP for Buckingham. The move is expected to gain widespread backing from Labour backbenchers and several senior figures, including the party's deputy leader, Harriet Harman. The Government is expected to allow a free vote and is unlikely to block the moves to make it easier to obtain early abortions.
The moves are also backed by the British Medical Association's Medical Ethics Committee, which wants the 1967 Abortion Act modernised so that in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy women would not require the consent of doctors to have an abortion.
Dr Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: "The 1967 Act ... has served women well but is in need of modernisation. It is time for the House ... to ensure that women face fewer barriers to early abortion and that old-fashioned restrictions on who can conduct abortions and where they can be carried out are removed."
But Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance said: "We are opposed to any liberalisation of the law because abortion is already easily accessible and widely available. Last year, there were over 200,000 abortions in the UK."Reuse content