by Angus Macdonald
PRO-LIFE groups have reacted with dismay to figures which show the number of late abortions has almost tripled since new abortion laws came into effect in April 1991.
Figures released this week by Thomas Sackville, the health minister, show that 60 abortions were carried out after gestations of 25 weeks last year, compared to 21 to 24 in the previous four years, almost all in cases where "severe abnormalities" had been diagnosed.
Of those 60, the minister said, ten occurred after 28 weeks abortions which would have been illegal under the old law. other than to save the life of the mother. One abortion occurred at 36 weeks, only three weeks short of full term.
Keith Davies, national coordinator of the Life campaign, told the Catholic Herald this week: "We are deeply concerned at what appears to be a spiralling trend in late abortions."Mr Davies pledged that Life would as a result "monitor even more closely" the numbers of late abortions.
"How any medical doctor can terminate the pregnancy of a child who he knows is capable of being born alive is totally incomprehensible to us," he said. Even cases of severe handicap didn't justify killing children at 36 weeks. he said.
Chris Whitehouse, parliamentary officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said pro-life MPs had been assured when the law was changed that abortions would only take place in the most extreme circumstances.
MPs would be "horrified" to learn that one termination had been carried out at 36 weeks, he said.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which took effect in April 1991, allows abortion up to birth in cases where there is a risk to the mother's life or in cases of suspected serious foetal handicap.
John Smeaton, General Secretary of SPUC said the figures were "outrageous", adding that "a new class of citizen was being killed in Britain" as a result of the 1991 changes.
Mr Smeaton described the 36week termination as "particularly chilling", adding "I had a baby grand-daughter who was born at a younger age than that."
But a leading gynaecologist said that part of the increase was due to a change in the way numbers of abortions are recorded, David Paintin, a senior gyneacologist and chairman of the Birth Control Trust. said that there were always cases, discovered after 28 weeks, of such severe abnormality that the child would not survive after birth.
In the past, he said, such cases would have been terminated, but dubbed "obstetric manoeuvres" and therefore not registered under abortion law.