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Spotlight on: Where do we draw the line?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 01 April 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:0704160
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist1
  1. 1London

Numerous attempts have been made to change the rules on abortion since it was legalised 40 years ago. Jonathan Gornall examines current arguments for reform

The 40th anniversary in October this year of the passing of the UK Abortion Act is certain to be marked by attempts to reopen the debate about lowering the upper limit for legal terminations. The anti-choice campaigners, quick to point out the uncomfortable resonance of the tally of six million “deaths” since 1967,1 have already given notice of their optimistic ambition to halve the number of abortions, while in the House of Commons a Conservative MP is promoting a bill that would help them hit their more realistic target of lowering the upper limit from 24 weeks.

The pro-choice lobby has also come out fighting, denying the charge that abortion in the UK is, to all intents and purposes, available on demand-but suggesting that it ought to be. In an Ipsos MORI poll carried out in November for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the UK's leading independent provider of abortions, 59% agreed that “abortion should be made legally available for all who want it.” In a pre-emptive strike Ann Furedi, the organisation's chief executive, called for an end to the “archaic” requirement for the approval of two doctors and proposed that abortions under nine weeks' gestation should be carried out by nurses.

Scott Camazine/SPL

Legal challenges

The core aim of the anti-choice lobby remains the complete abolition of abortion, except when it is a matter of life or death for the mother. The reality, however, is that abortion has become so irreversibly entrenched in the nation's social and medical culture that those opposed to it have had to put this ambition on the back burner and adjust their strategy.

The number of legal abortions in England …

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