Government resists call for change in abortion law

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Indy Politics

Changes to the abortion laws remain a matter of conscience, John Reid, the Health Secretary, said yesterday after the architect of the 1967 Abortion Act called for a drastic tightening of the legal limit on terminations.

Lord Steel of Aikwood said that abortions for non-medical reasons should be banned after 12 weeks because of advances in technology. The current limit is 24 weeks.

The former Liberal leader told Scotland on Sunday: "If it's simply the decision of the mother then the limit should be 12 weeks. I personally believe it's likely to happen.

"When we introduced the Act it was always the intention that the operation should be carried out as early as possible. Advances in medical technology mean that a large number of problems and abnormalities are now detectable at an earlier stage than they were in previous years. Also, a foetus can survive at an earlier stage than it could in the past."

Mr Reid, who has backed a ban on abortions after 18 weeks, said a change in the law was a matter of conscience for Parliament, and not for ministers to decide. He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "I want to make it clear that this is always a decision for Parliament. It is a conscience decision, in the sense that people are allowed to vote freely according to their own conscience. It is not government sponsored.

"Roughly once every five or six years there is a debate on this. It is not up to me as a minister to decide, this is up to Parliament to decide."

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