Threefold rise in late abortions under new law

THE NUMBER of late abortions has almost tripled since April 1991 when the new abortion law came into effect. Figures released by Tom Sackville, the health minister, show 60 abortions were carried out after gestations of 25 weeks last year against 21 to 24 in the previous four years.

Of those, 10 occurred after 28 weeks - abortions which would have been illegal under the old law, other than to save the life of the mother. Five occurred at 29 weeks, two at 30, one at 31, one at 33 and one at 36 weeks - three weeks short of full term.

The figures brought immediate calls for a fresh review of the law from anti-abortion groups. But a leading gynaecologist said yesterday that the very late abortions - those after 28 weeks - were simply recording for the first time terminations of non-viable foetuses that had always taken place. And Mr Sackville said an examination of the notification forms for the 52 late abortions carried out after the law changed showed that in all cases save one 'severe abnormalities' had been diagnosed. The other case had been to save the life of the mother.

The Abortion Law Reform Association said: 'These were clearly not abortions for frivolous reasons.' The department's figures show that 43 per cent of abortions beyond 24 weeks were for central nervous system abnormalities which include gross brain deformities and spina bifida, 22 per cent were genetic abnormalities, 17 per cent multiple system abnormalities, 11 per cent renal conditions and 7 per cent heart defects.

The 60 late abortions last year came in a total of 179,522 performed in England and Wales, a 4 per cent drop on 1990.

Chris Whitehouse, parliamentary officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the society was 'deeply concerned at such a significant rise in late abortions' and MPs would be 'horrified' that one had been carried out at 36 weeks.

Pro-life MPs were assured when the law was changed that abortions would only take place after 24 weeks in the most extreme circumstances, he said.

However, David Paintin, the senior gynaecologist who is chairman of the Birth Control Trust, said the increase appeared to have two causes. One was 'telling the truth' about late terminations that had always happened under the old law but had not been classified as abortions. And the other was late abortions for severe handicap that the old law forbade.

Mr Paintin said there had always been cases, discovered post- 28 weeks, of such severe abnormality that the child would not survive after birth. Many of those involved gross brain abnormalities. The pregnancy would have been terminated, but such cases in the past would have been dubbed 'obstetric manoeuvres' and not registered under the abortion law. Under the new law they would be notified.

With 43 per cent of the late abortions due to central nervous system abnormalities, a significant number appeared to fall into that category, he said. The remainder, appeared to involve serious abnormalities diagnosed late or which only became apparent after 24 weeks - some serious heart defects and brain conditions were diagnosable only after 24 weeks. 'Under the old law, it wasn't legal to terminate these, but now women, their partners and doctors do have a freedom they did not have before'.

Dilys Cossey, director of the Birth Control Trust, said the late abortions were plainly ones of much wanted children.

'No woman would wish to go through an abortion this late unless there were the strongest reasons,' she added.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border