20 week limit – some facts

A 4D ultrasound of a baby at 20 weeks gestation

Maria Miller, the new minister for women, has courted controversy by stating that she supports a lowering of the legal abortion limit down to 20 weeks from the current deadline of 24 weeks.

No doubt anticipating the howls of outrage from the feminist lobby, she has valiantly attempted to reframe this as being a feminist issue, that it is in women’s best interests that the abortion limits are lowered. One has to admit that she has a point.

Medically and psychologically speaking it is certainly better for women who have an abortion to do so sooner, rather than later. The advice of the RCOG and the NHS is that around 10 weeks is the optimal time to terminate a pregnancy, in terms of minimising the risks to women. The procedure for a late-term abortion is especially gruesome and traumatic; either one is given massive doses of hormones to induce labour (which can last 6-12 hours) and then delivers a dead baby; alternatively the baby’s heart is stopped via an injection either vaginally or through the stomach, medication is given to soften the cervix and then 12-24 hours later woman is given a general anaesthetic and the dead baby is dismembered and removed surgically.

Those are the indisputable scientific facts. Medically, there is no question that if we are talking solely about female physical wellbeing, then an early stage abortion, though no picnic, has to be the less risky and traumatic option. No woman gives birth to a stillborn baby without experiencing a very deep level of trauma. Here’s some testimonies from women who have had late-stage abortions in the UK, from a non partisan women’s website.  The replies are well worth reading.

hi i had an abortion when i was 20 weeks pregnant
they didnt explain to me that i would have to give birth as i didnt really no anything about abortions at the time
its bin a year and half and i still struggle to get through the days, i regret what i have done but if i could turn back the clocks then i think i would, it was 4 the best but i cant live with my self for what i have done.

I had an abortion at 21weeks and 4days and it was the most horrible experience of my life…The clinic where i had the procedure done was horrible, it was clean… but it was just like a baby killing factory. A conveyor belt of women. I was upset and no-one cared. I was left alone for ages. I had to get a d and e procedure. I had something placed in me to dilate my cervix… i was lying in a small shut off room alone, when I felt gushing coming from me… I waited untill i was getting my temperature taken and told the nurse, that was my water breaking… I cried and cried when I was alone, then a short while later at 12.15pm I was taken and given my anesthetic an that was it over. Woke up in recovery. Was put back in my bed where my tempertaure and blood pressure was taken and that was it. No-one spoke to me untill i was being discharged, and given my anti-biotics. At the whole time i was there i wasnt asked why i wanted an abortion, if i was sure this is what i wanted… Just got on with it. I am not anti abortion, but I wish the option hadnt been there for me to get it so late.

As many of the late term abortion apologists cite the relatively low number of late term abortions in order to qualify them on medical grounds, it’s worth having a look at these figures. In 2011 2,729 late term abortions took place between 20-24 weeks. None were under ground F – to save the life of the pregnant woman, or Ground G – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. 778 were under Ground E – there was a ‘substantial risk of abnormalities, as to be seriously handicapped.’ So thats a total of 1951 healthy babies aborted between 20 and 24 weeks.

Let’s also remind ourselves of the findings of a recent symposium  comprised of 140 experts on maternal health in Dublin who ruled that direct abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother.

The danger in defending the lowering of a 20 week limit is that it risks encouraging and endorsing early stage abortions as well as ignoring the disgusting discrimination against babies with disabilities, although if any such change to legislation is mooted, it would be an excellent opportunity to reexamine the law surrounding Ground E abortions.

Even those who feel that a woman should have a right to choose, baulk at the notion of a 20 week baby being killed, simply because a mother has left her decision too late. If people are uncomfortable with the idea of a fully formed baby being killed, then we need to ask why it is acceptable to dispose of disabled babies. What does that tell us about our society – are we saying that the lives and bodies of disabled people are of lesser value and worth? Anyone who feels intuitively uncomfortable about late stage abortions for social reasons, needs to re-examine their conscience as to why they feel they are acceptable for babies with disabilities.

As for the science of foetal pain, this is contentious. What we do know is that babies of 16 weeks gestation will recoil from a noxious substance in the womb and that babies born prematurely under 24 weeks will withdraw and cry if stabbed in the heel with a needle. Though the RCOG’s official position is that babies under 24 weeks do not feel pain, other experts feel that this is based on an outdated understanding of physiology.

There are also disturbing cases of babies born alive following attempted abortion. As Peter Saunders notes, “in a 2007 West Midlands study of 3,189 cases of termination for fetal anomaly, 102 (3.2%) babies were born alive. This included 65.7% of those between 20 and 24 weeks. Accounts such as these understandably upset people.”

Here’s Millie McDonagh thriving after being born at 22 weeks and 6 days. Amilia Taylor, the world’s most premature baby was born at 21+ 6 days. Baby Jayden was not so lucky. He was born at the same time and allowed. to die. A 20 week limit could ensure that treatment is attempted for all premature babies. Or do the feminist principles of equality for the weakest only apply to those who have the strongest chances of growing into adulthood without disability?

Three quarters of the public have expressed a desire to see the limit brought down to 20 weeks. If such a change is passed not only does it increase protection for the unborn but is a significant step towards recognising the humanity of all unborn children. Perhaps that’s why it is being opposed quite so vehemently?

2 thoughts on “20 week limit – some facts

  1. I agree that a reduction in the abortion time limit to 20 weeks would be a significant improvement to the law in this country.

    I can see the atheist argument that we are all just a bunch of cells who happen to be able to process information in a way that leads to consciousness, and that if another group of cells starts growing inside one of us we should be able to remove it. It’s not a baby! It’s just a cluster of cells! But as your illustration shows, a 20 week old foetus is quite clearly now a baby, and that we allow unborn children at this stage of development to be aborted is surely completely unjustifiable.

    I am not optimistic that this will come to anything though – a reduction was debated in the Commons not that long ago and it was defeated.

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