BY A STAFF REPORTER
FRESH A 1TEMPTS to modify the Abortion Act are to be made by Mr. Norman St. JohnStevas, Conservative M.P. for Chelmsford, following his narrow failure by 11 votes (210 to 199) to introduce an Amending Bill to the Act on Tuesday in the House of Commons.
Mr. St. John-Stevas said that he was "immensely encouraged" by the size of the vote for his Bill. "When one considers that only 29 members voted against the Second Reading of the Abortion Act the shift in opinion in the House was remarkable," he said.
"It shows that the anxiety in the country over the working of the Act is now being reflected in the House."
Mr. St. John-Stevas called on the Government to take immediate action to reassure the public and appoint an impartial inter-departmental committee to take evidence from all concerned to establish the facts of the situation and recommend changes in the law.
After Tuesday's vote. Mr. David Steele (Lib., Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles), who introduced the Abortion Bill into the Commons, agreed that the closeness of the vote showed a "proper concern" about the way the Act was being operated. Introducing his Abortion Amendment Bill, Mr. St. JohnStevas said that he had strong views on the morality of abortion. in part because of his religious beliefs. The community neither wanted a total ban on abortion nor abortion on demand.
It wanted abortion available where there was a serious and genuine need. carried out in the best possible circumstances.
A minority of doctors, Mr. St. John-Stevas said, were making fortunes out of the Act.
His Bill would ensure that of the two doctors who, under the law, could certify an abortion one would be a consultant gynaecologist holding office in the National Health Service, and the operation should be performed under his supervision. Because the number of gynaecologists was limited in some parts of the country, doctors of equivalent status should be given ministerial approval to act in the same way. This, he said, would bring an end to most of the racketeering that was going on.
Asking the House to refuse leave to introduce the Bill. Mr. David Steele said that he did not regard the Abortion Act as it now stood as perfect. But Mr. St. John-Stevas's Bill would not solve the problems involved in the working of the Act. It was a regressive measure. He admitted that "one or two doctors in one or two clinics" were not giving the fullest medical attention and were primarily motivated by financial considerations. What was required. Mr. Steele said. was more doctors in the Health Service willing to operate the Act in a balanced way. Those who supported Mr. St. John-Stevas included 45 Labour M.P.s, including five ministers, and seven women M.P.s. All the Liberal M.P.s, with the exception of Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty) opposed the introduction of the Bill. They were joined by 29 Conservative M.P.s Nine women members also voted against the measure.
(Are aborted babies being burned alive? asks woman M.P.—P.81