HC Deb 21 February 1989 vol 147 cc820-1
2. Miss Widdecombe

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what percentage of abortions at 25 weeks, 26 weeks and 27 weeks was performed (luring 1987 because the child was likely to be born handicapped.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Roger Freeman)

The figures are eight out of 11, six out of nine and all three at 27 weeks, respectively. For the convenience of the House I shall publish in the Official Report a table which presents this information more fully.

Miss Widdecombe

In view of the fact that even at the late ages of 25 and 26 weeks' gestation there are still some social abortions is my hon. Friend satisfied that his Department is complying with the spirit and the letter of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend is certainly right that based upon the figures that I have just given, six of the abortions in 1987 where the gestation period was above 24 weeks were for reasons other than the potential handicap of the child. If the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 were amended to insert "24 weeks" instead of 28 weeks, all 23 abortions would be called into question except where the life of the mother was endangered. My hon. Friend's Bill would call into question only six of the abortions.

Mr. Frank Field

The pro-abortionists claims that there is no majority in the House to amend the Abortion Act 1967. Will the Minister speculate as to why that self-same group spends so much time adopting procedural devices to prevent us from reaching a conclusion on the matter?

Mr. Freeman

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the answer that he has just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) confirms that, quite rightly, there are very few late abortions—

Miss Widdecombe

Too many.

Mr. MacKay

—and secondly, that nearly all of those take place when there is a very clear indication that the baby is likely to be grossly handicapped?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend is right. I repeat the figure of six late abortions—using my hon. Friend's definition of late as being over 24 weeks' gestation—where the reasons were other than for the potential handicap of the child.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister really believe that the possibility of something as trivial as a non-inherited skin disease represents a gross handicap? Does he not agree that amniocentesis and chorionic vilius sampling are increasingly used as the first part of a search and destroy mission, that far too much pressure is put on people to abort away handicap and disability and that that becomes a quality control on life and what is really needed is help for both the mother and the child?

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the certification of the cause involving the potential handicap of a child is not a matter for me but for clinical judgment.

The information is as follows: Notification of abortions which took place with a gestation period of 25, 26 and 27 weeks showing the number with a mention of ground 4 which states "there is a substantial risk that if the child is born it would suffer such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped"
England and Wales 1987
(a) All grounds (b) Ground 4 (c) (b) as a percentage of (a)
25 weeks 11 8 72.7
26 weeks 9 6 66.7
27 weeks 3 3 100.0
Total 23 17 73.9