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Abortion Act Needs an Update

Abortion Act Needs an Update

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Published by Liam Hoare

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Published by: Liam Hoare on Aug 29, 2011
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08/29/2011

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“Abortion Act needs an update,”
 London Student 
, November 12, 2007, Comment, 30. It has now been forty years since the
 Abortion Act 1967 
was ratified in Parliament.Contrary to popular belief this did not legalise abortion on demand, but rather set outa raft of criteria under which if an abortion were carried out, there would be nogrounds for prosecution, for example if giving birth were to cause serious harm to thewoman. In the history of modern British society, and for the advancement of liberaldemocracy, this was as a significant development as the establishment of the NHS, or the privatisation of the old industries.The anniversary of said Act has stirred up debate on this issue for the first time in thiscurrent government. Last month saw a march by religious and anti-abortion groups onthe Houses of Parliament, calling for the upper limit for an abortion, currently 24weeks, to be slashed. But recent studies have shown that general public as a wholedoes not support this; four out of five people for instance believe that a woman has aright to an abortion. To some extent the debate in this country on the reduction of theupper limit for abortion is irrelevant. The vast majority of the terminations that arecarried out in this country take place within the first trimester; 89% of abortions inthis country occur before 13 weeks. What the debate is really about is whether awoman has the right to choose at all, and this centres on whether the foetus is in fact achild.This point of view is one supported by anti-abortion campaign organisation such asthe Pro-Life Alliance, yet it is contrary to our modern medical understanding. As aconsequence their argument relies heavily on the use of emotive language; labellingabortion as infanticide for instance. Their argument is that when a foetus is aborted, achild is in fact being murdered. But the designation of the embryo or foetus as a person is not only grossly misleading, but dangerous and backward-looking. Anembryo can only become a person when it gains consciousness, or to put it moresuccinctly when it is able to feel pain. The most recent study on this issue by the
 Journal of Neuroscience
concluded that a foetus gains consciousness at 25 weeks.However it is acknowledged that there no clear consensus on the issue of foetal pain,and hence the viability of the foetus, meaning the chance of it surviving birth needs to be considered as well. Under the
 Human Embryology and Human Fertilisation Act 1990
24 weeks was regarded as the point at which the foetus became viable. However In
The Developing Human
, authors Moore and Persaud deduced that foetuses born between 26 and 28 have ‘difficulty surviving’, due to weak respiratory and nervoussystems. The landmark Supreme Court case on abortion
 Roe v Wade
corroborated thisstudy even with the current advances in medical technology.Given this evidence the conclusion can only be drawn that the current limit onabortions, 24 weeks, needs to remain in place. But with the advances in medicalunderstanding and scientific technology, now is not only the time to re-evaluate andconsolidate the law, but to liberalise it further. Now is the era to advance the cause of women’s rights once more, and give women the right to an abortion on demand up totwelve weeks from the beginning of gestation. In addition up to 12 weeks nurses aswell as doctors should be allowed to perform abortions, and women should be able toconduct safe home abortions using prescribed medication, a modern version of the

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