The Blog of
Nadine Dorries
Today at the Science & Technology Committee - the Evidence
Posted Monday, 15 October 2007 at 09:54


Today the Science and Technology Committee meets for the first evidence session into the scientific evidence to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place from 24 to 20 weeks. I think it is being televised, and although it won’t go out on the Parliament channel live, it will go out either in the evening or sometime in the week.


From the 18 witnesses to give evidence, I could only identify three who could be classed as pro-life, i.e. would wish to support a reduction. All other witnesses were very definitely pro-choice, either from the perspective of which ever establishment they represented, or as a matter of personal opinion.


Following a discussion last week the Chairman very kindly granted my request that two other witnesses should be included to even up the balance - although it is still heavily weighted in the other direction.


The reason why the committee’s findings are so important has more to do with the Human Tissue and Embryology Bill which will be coming to the House sometime following the Queen’s Speech on the 6th November.


 It has been ruled that amendments can be made to this Bill which will impact upon the provision as laid out in the Abortion Act of 1967. Therefore MPs will use the findings of this investigation to inform their argument in the chamber and the committee stage during the Bill’s passage through Parliament.


On Monday, one of the witnesses will be Professor Neil Marlow who will inform the committee that at 23 weeks gestation only 10-15 per cent of babies born across England survive.

What he may not say however, is that at University College Hospital  London, 42 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks survive and at 24 weeks that figure jumps to 72 per cent.


The figures in America are much higher still, 66 per cent and 81 per cent respectively.


Professor Marlow will present figures that could be statistically probable if you average out the figures across the country; but won’t in any way represent the true picture should a mother happen to give birth in a good hospital with a good neo-natologist present.


The figures may show little difference on a region by region basis, but would tell an entirely different story if we compared hospital by hospital.


The fact is that with the right treatment on hand, 23 ‘weekers’ have a good chance of survival. At 23 weeks life is viable and therefore we should not, from either the position of ethics or morals, be aborting at that stage.


Every day this week I will be discussing different aspects of this investigation. I apologise to those who like the more light hearted side of my blogs, however, this is incredibly important to me. Abortion is after all about taking a life.


The reason the ’67 Act came about was to prevent doctors from being prosecuted for manslaughter. We perform 200,000 abortions a year in this country; 1:4 pregnancies results in termination. I believe that the laissez fair attitude to abortion has deeper roots within our broken society. After all, what kind of society aborts babies at 24 weeks gestation and in order to do so commits foeticide in the most barbaric manner, just in case the baby lives?


More later….

Sweeper said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Sounds as if you're up against it Nadine.What ever the final outcome, let's hope it is right. Given that 40 years have passed since the 24 week rule,and the speed of medical advances these days, I personally favour a much lower period than even you are proposing.Although,at the end of the day, it is upto the individual or pair concerned and her/their consciences.
John said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Don't apologise Nadine,whilst we can readily identify with your light-hearted moments, we can also do serious.Unfortunately, political process is rarely explained to us 'ords' other than the highlights.If you have the time, perhaps you could tell us if all the 18 witnesses are 'professionals' or 'experts'. Do you, for instance, have evidence, written or otherwise, from women who have experienced abortions at 22-24 weeks? Why are you personally only going for a two week reduction, as improvements in care will probably accelerate in the forthcoming years and if it takes another decade or two for parliament to revisit the issue, then manslaughter is a distinct possibility.
MrChippy said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Your committee has 5/6 Labour 3 Conservatives 2Lib.Dems. Seems to me that you're up against it on two fronts.The first five giving evidence appear to have a time limit of 9 minutes each according to the schedule-not much time to argue life or death.I think you can watch the proceedings live online on the parliament website from 4:15pm.
Mike H said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Like Sweeper and John, I'd prefer a limit that's lower than the proposed 22 weeks. I fully support a woman's right to choose whether or not to give birth, but a revision of the limit at which that decision can be made is long overdue. Maybe in 1967 a 24 week limit was appropriate, but things were very different forty years ago. Contraceptive choices were a lot more limited, prescription contraceptives were not always easily accessible to single people, there was no 'morning after' pill and no over the counter kits that could indicate pregnancy within a couple of weeks of conception. Neonatal medicine was primitive when compared with what is possible today. In the days before 3D ultrasound scans it was also easy to think of a foetus as little more than a small clump of cells. But technological development has shown us that a foetus is unmistakably human from a very early stage. A change in this aspect of the 1967 Act is long overdue. From a quick look at the BBC Parliament channel schedule, it looks like the Select Committee coverage is broadcast on Friday evenings from 6pm-11pm. If a committee member manages to ask sufficiently probing questions of the expert witnesses, maybe the subject will get some coverage in the mainstream TV news.
Anonymous said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
You were absolutley superb on the Simon Mayo show. Keep it up Nadine, you have more support than you would think.
Tessa said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Your last comment on Mayo made me stop and think. All my of life I have been pro-choice and I still am, but with limits I didn't have before.
Anonymous said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Sweeper - Get your facts right. 40 years have not passed since the 24 week rule. The 24 week rule was introduced in 1990.
Anonymous said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
But what would be the point trying to compromise with you over 24 weeks vs 22 weeks ? You would be back next month for a cut to 20 weeks ! This is completely dishonest. If you would be prepared to go on record saying that you would be willing to support a cut to 22 weeks [or whatever other limit it is you support], and would then oppose a cut below that for the rest of your political career, it would carry some weight. But because your position is to move closer and closer to a position where women are denied the choice, then ultimately your efforts are, rightly, doomed to failure. Behind all the spin and emotive language you are ultimately saying that women should be forced to give birth to babies they didn't want. If that really is your position, you should come out and use your much-vaunted bravery to say so, and see how much support you really have.
Cora Tremyne said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
Undoubtedly, late abortion is very unpleasant and I'm sure no one's denying it. But whether the baby *could* survive outside the womb at 24 weeks does not change the fact that, even up to full gestation, a foetus is not regarded in law as being equal to a person already born and living their life. I agree with Anonymous in that you are suggesting that a woman should be forced to go through with a pregnancy that she does not want. Surely her rights should take precendence? Is it really preferable for an unwanted baby to be born? Maybe it would be better to ensure women are given suitable information, counselling and support so that the decision to abort is made early where possible.
Eva said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
To the last "Anon" - "....women should be forced to give birth to babies they didn't want....." I don't think that is what is being said. I'm pro-choice, but I'm not pro cutting a baby into pieces inside the womb and dragging it out bit by bit, which is what late abortions are. Sorry to be brutal, but that is what happens.
Mike H said:
Responded: Monday, 15 October 2007
I saw the Select Committee sessions this afternoon (thanks to MrChippy for pointing out that they're available online on On occasions I've seen glimpses of the work of Select Committees on the BBC Parliament channel, but this is the first time I've seen a session from start to finish. It's a shame that Parliament is largely portrayed in the mass-media to reflect the worst of the bear-pit moments in the House of Commons, rather than for the background work that goes on in committee. There were a couple of moments where some of your committee colleagues couldn't resist calls from their inner politician and (quite inappropriately, in my view) demanded yes or no answers to very complex questions, or tried to score rather cheap shots against the attending medical professionals; but overall it was a high-quality debate from which I learnt a bit more about an important subject. Is there an online timetable for the committee sessions? I couldn't find it anywhere...
Sweeper said:
Responded: Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Mike H, the next meeting of the committee is, I believe, on Wednesday at 4:15pm.The parliament website only seems to give dates for a week in advance and those may be changed at short notice.The Despatches channel 4 program this Wednesday would be a good one to watch, although it is on quite late. I believe it details the operation that Eva describes in her comment.I noticed that there are only 2 women on this committee of 11(although I realise this is just one of a number of issues they look at).A definite shortage of female insight on the committee in my opinion.
Sweeper said:
Responded: Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Sorry, Anon, my thoughts got ahead of my typing. In 1967 it was 28 weeks then reduced in 1990 to 24 weeks. I was trying to make the point that long periods pass before parliament revisits the topic. Seventeen years is still quite a slab of time given the rate of medical advances.
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Nadine Dorries MP
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