Anti-abortion MPs will try to use review to impose 12-week limit

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Anti-abortion MPs yesterday said they would use a review of the abortion laws to reduce the time limit for legal abortion to below 12 weeks.

Anti-abortion MPs yesterday said they would use a review of the abortion laws to reduce the time limit for legal abortion to below 12 weeks.

Tony Blair has led the support for a possible reduction in the time limit for abortion from 24 weeks, which many MPs believe is now needed because of scientific advances, but pro-life MPs are planning a meeting on Monday at Westminster to plot a strategy for a much more radical tightening of the law to curb the numbers of legal abortions in Britain.

Jim Dobbin, the Labour chairman of the Pro-Life parliamentary group, said other organisations opposed to legal abortion on conscience grounds would attend the meeting. Their aim is to use a change in mood at Westminster in favour of a limited change in the law to bring about the most dramatic shift since the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced by David Steel, now Lord Steel of Aikwood, as a Liberal backbencher.

Such a move would be strongly opposed and could lead to a major confrontation in the Commons. It will also alarm women's groups, who fear a reduction in availability of legal abortions could lead to a return to more illegal operations.

Mr Dobbin said the recent pictures taken of a foetus at 12 weeks apparently "walking'' in the womb, and sucking its thumb, had helped to shift opinion at Westminster. "I think the time is right now to start looking at this seriously," Mr Dobbin said. "People I would never have thought would move an inch on abortion are beginning to say it needs to be looked at." The change of heart among MPs was also encouraged, he said, by the successful challenge in the courts by an Anglican vicar to force West Mercia police to investigate the abortion of a foetus with a cleft palate.

He said he would be prepared to take on board a private member's bill to impose a radical reduction in the time-limit below 12 weeks. He would not specify a preferred time limit because he was against it on conscience grounds, he said.

Lord Steel has indicated that he would support a cut to 23 weeks - the age at which it may now be possible for a baby to survive independently. Mr Blair on Wednesday gave his support to a review of the time limit.

Lord Steel said: "I had a conversation with Dr Ian Gibson, chairman of the committee which is reviewing embryology, and they are willing to take on this issue. They can also take into account the invention of the morning-after pill. These are all issues which have come up since the passing of the Abortion Act. Public opinion and medical opinion would believe that abortion has to be carried out as early as possible."

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