MPs to quiz minister on abortion limit

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LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) MPs will today quiz the government's public heath minister about whether the abortion law should be changed, amid growing calls for reform.

The 1967 Abortion Act, which marks its 40th anniversary on Saturday, allows terminations to be carried out up to 24 weeks after conception.

The British Medical Association (BMA) backs the current set-up and even advocates easing restrictions on abortion in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy so that women would no longer require the signature of two doctors.

However anti-abortion campaigners argue that medical advances mean that babies have a better chance of survival at 24-weeks than in the past, and say the upper limit should now be reduced.

''It is encouraging to see that even some of those working in the abortion industry recognise that the current abortion time limit must be reduced,'' said Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance.

''We are opposed to all abortion and therefore an abortion at 16 weeks is no more acceptable than an abortion at 24 weeks.

However a reduction in the time limit will, at least, save some lives.'' Today, Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo is due to appear before the Committee on Science and Technology to discuss medical developments and whether the upper limit, which was cut from 28 weeks in 1990, is still appropriate.

The committee will examine scientific rather than ethical or moral issues.

In 2006, there were nearly 200,000 abortions in England and Wales, according to the Department of Health, a 4 percent rise from the previous year.

That figure is too high according to religious figures and the MP behind the original act.

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Sunday that abortion was becoming commonplace and that people were insufficiently troubled about terminating pregnancies.

''Something has happened to our assumptions about the life of the unborn child,'' Rowan Williams wrote in the Observer newspaper.

Lord Steel, one of the main architects of the 1967 Act, has also voiced his concerns that too many abortions are being carried out, although he advocated better sex education rather than a change to the law.

''Everybody can agree that there are too many abortions,'' he told the Guardian on Wednesday.

''I accept there is a mood now which is that if things go wrong you can get an abortion, and it is irresponsible really.'' REUTERS ARB KP1336

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