Abortion in Britain: Could Hunt have made a medical case for reducing the time limit from 24 to 12 weeks?

September 16, 2014

Abortion, Women's Health

Jeremy Hunt

When asked about a time limit for abortions, Jeremy Hunt answered , “My view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.

When Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about this statement, he stated that this was Jeremy Hunt’s personal view, and did not reflect and policy changes that his administration would be making.

However, it is important to remember that Jeremy Hunt is a Member of Parliament and the Secretary of Health. He stated that he is not in favor of making abortion illegal, but believes that the time limit should be reduced for non-religious reasons.

Cameron went on record stating:

“I personally have voted for a modest reduction from the current limit of 24 weeks because I think there are some medical arguments for that. But I don’t agree with the 12-week limit and that’s not the government’s policy,”

This is an issue worth investigating. This article’s goal is not to consider the ethics of the issue, which are of course quite complex. What we are pursuing is the following: Are there medical arguments for instituting a ban on abortions after 12 weeks?

Britain’s abortion policy and 24-week limit are based on the concept of viability, that is to say, when the fetus is viable outside the body. This was lowered from 28 weeks when studies suggested that medical technology had improved survival rates from premature births.

Looking at this issue from a practical perspective, this suggests that late-term abortion is an issue affecting British society. In 2006 around 3900 women went through with an abortion after 20 weeks. This sounds like a lot, but it only accounts for about 2% of abortions that occurred in Britain during 2006. Out of 193,700 cases, 89% of abortions occurred before 13 weeks. (See the 2006 House of Commons Report)

Another problem is simply determining when a pregnancy really began. In America, around half of all pregnancies are unintended. Sexually active women may have trouble determining exactly when conception occurred, and beyond that sperm can live inside of a woman up to 5 days in some cases.

Currently, British law allows for abortions up to 24 weeks (down from 28 weeks), including cases where the life or health of the mother is at stake, the pregnancy might affect the mental health of the mother’s existing children, or in the case that the fetus displays severe abnormalities. The law also makes exceptions after 24 weeks for emergencies that would endanger the health or life of the mother. (See the same 2006 House of Commons Report)

Some of the genetic abnormalities that this law covers are only detectable after about 20 weeks.

The problem in practice here is that changing the time limit to 12 weeks would affect only a small number of women, but disproportionately burden this group.

Adoption is frequently offered as an alternative to abortion, but a problem in this case is that many aborted fetuses displayed high levels of abnormality, and there are relatively few families willing to adopt disabled children, making it an impractical solution.

In the 2006 report, the Science and Technology Committee did not find any compelling medical evidence for changing the 24 week limit to a lower number of weeks, as there have not been significant advances in dealing with premature births.

Readers are invited to present any evidence that might support Jeremy Hunt’s view.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

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5 Comments on “Abortion in Britain: Could Hunt have made a medical case for reducing the time limit from 24 to 12 weeks?”

  1. elizabetcetera Says:

    Dear Jeremy Hunt,

    BEFORE speaking out on such a controversial subject have you ever thought why 12 weeks is not the cut off for abortion? Rather than simply shooting a feel-good, sound-good opinion have you considered using science for information?

    Good luck to you and that brain of yours!



  2. elizabetcetera Says:

    “shooting out” …



  3. Stuart Sorensen Says:

    As a British citizen (& therefore someone with an actual stake in what British society does) I’d be interested to know why you invite your readers only to submit views that support Jeremy Hunt’s position?





    • jslachman381 Says:

      Hello Stuart, and thank you for your reply.
      That statement was only meant to show that I am inviting opposing views, not that I am excluding ones that agree.

      Either way, I’d be very interested to hear your opinion!


      Joseph (the author)



      • Stuart Sorensen Says:

        Hi Joseph,

        To be honest I have no opinion. That’s not so much a cop out as it is an acknowledgement that I’m not qualified (or indeed sufficiently informed) to make a decision.

        Ethically speaking I have trouble with the ‘viability’ issue as that’s really just a function of time anyway. But equally I can’t ignore the fact that unwanted children bring their own problems which I have difficulty accepting as inevitable, not least since I wouldn’t be the one paying the price either of more or less permissive abortion legislation.

        If really pushed I’d have to err on the side of a woman’s right to choose but I’m well aware that even that creates major ethical problems.

        In short all I can say is that I don’t know. However I can also say that I tend to mistrust Jeremy Hunt as a matter of course (not that this impacts upon the abortion debate). He has so many hidden agendas it’s hard to know what he’s really up to. I’d be surprised if he was motivated by anything even approaching compassion or even a basic awareness of ethical concerns.

        Wow – don’t I witter on?




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