13 May 2024

I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is, and I appreciate the strength of feelings on both sides. It is for this reason that, as with other matters of conscience, the Government adopts a neutral stance on abortion and allows Conservative MPs to vote freely according to their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. This is a convention which I support wholeheartedly.

The approach to abortion in Great Britain is set out in the Abortion Act 1967, which states that two doctors must certify that, in their opinion, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground laid out in the Act. These grounds include “risk to the life of the pregnant woman”, and “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.

Guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act has been issued, which stipulates that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion. Full details can be found online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act.

I am aware that all independent sector abortion clinics in England have been reapproved, which will ensure that abortion services continue to be available to women across the country. I understand that all current approvals are valid until 31 July 2026.

I know that making a decision regarding abortion can be extremely difficult, and I believe that we must do all we can to support women to make an informed decision, taking into consideration all their options, with medical professionals offering impartial advice. I will continue to do all I can to ensure plenty of information is available to women making enquiries relating to abortion including all options available to them. 

Early Medical Abortions -

As of 30 August 2022, women in England and Wales are able to permanently access early medical abortions at home. New legislation allows women to access pills for early medical abortion via a teleconsultation, and for both pills to be taken at home for gestation of up to nine weeks and six days.

Sex Selective abortion -

Abortion on the grounds of sex alone is illegal and I am glad that the Government guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act makes this clear. 

Abortion on the grounds of disability -

Not every pregnancy goes to plan and foetal abnormalities of varying degrees of severity can occur.  Women need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgemental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.

Conscientious Objection -

Section 4 of the Abortion Act protects the right of staff to conscientiously object to participate in abortion treatment. The Supreme Court has ruled that this right to conscientious objection is limited to those staff who actually take part in treatment administered in a hospital or other approved place. This does not include ancillary, administrative or managerial tasks that might be associated with treatment.

Foetal Pain -

I understand that, in the last ten years, the body of knowledge relating to foetal sentience has been expanding, such that in 2019 the NHS recommended the use of pain relief for foetuses undergoing surgery for spina bifida from 20 weeks onwards. I also know, however, that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has not recommended the use of analgesia or anaesthesia for the foetus in utero, including for abortions. There is a wide range of guidance and research in this area, reaching a wide range of recommendations and conclusions, and I will of course work to ensure that Government and NHS guidance responds to the latest scientific information. I believe it is vital that, on a matter this sensitive and important, the broadest possible scope of scientific research is examined, informing a comprehensive debate.