Marie Stopes International
lets women down
By Ellie Lee
April 03, 2005
It seems that abortion provider
Marie Stopes International has bowed to media pressure and
caved in on upholding the case for women's access to abortion.
According to the following article in the Sunday Times
(see below), the MSI Chief Executive Tim Black is now arguing
that abortion should only be legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
All of the reasons he gives
for this change of policy were shown to be unfounded at a
meeting held at the House of Commons in January 2005 addressed
by leading medical and scientific experts. (The discussion
at the meeting can be listened to here: http://www.prochoiceforum.org.uk/la_meeting.php
A Briefing to which those who spoke at the meeting contributed
can be accessed here: http://www.prochoiceforum.org.uk/publications.php)
1. There are no 'medical developments'
that justify a reduced upper time limit to 20 weeks. Fetal
viability has not been significantly reduced since 1990. The
inability of the fetal lungs to expand, and to permit oxygen
transfer, prevents survival before 22-23 weeks and cannot
be overcome with the technology currently available. Statistics
from the EPIcure, this show that infants born in Great Britain
and Ireland have survival rates of 0% at 21 weeks, and about
1% at 22 weeks, 11% at 23 weeks and 26% at 24 weeks. It is
not only women seeking abortion who suffer when the truth
about fetal viability is misrepresented. So do those who give
birth prematurely, since they are given inflated expectations
of likely outcomes.
2. There is no scientific
evidence to show that the fetus can experience emotion (for
example pain or happiness). One of Britain's leading experts
on the subject of pain Professor Maria Fitzgerald has stated
that 'true pain experience [develops] postnatally along with
memory, anxiety and other cognitive brain functions', and
opinion she strongly re-articulated at the meeting referred
3. It is wrong to argue that
a reduction in the upper time limit to 20 weeks, accompanied
by 'abortion on request' to 12 weeks is a 'reasonable compromise'.
Women can already get early abortion more easily than ever
under the existing law and there is no reason why service
modifications could not make this easier still. On the other
hand, women who have abortions later on in pregnancy do so
mostly because they do not seek abortion earlier. The fact
is that a change in the law will penalise these women and
force them to bear children they do not want to have.
The proposal for a reduction
to 20 weeks has been presented entirely dishonestly by MSI.
The truth is that there are no medical or ethical reasons
for making late abortion illegal but the effect of the legal
change proposed by Black will be that each year about 2, 500
British women are denied the right to control their fertility.
There may be other reasons for MSI not wanting to provide
a late abortion service than those Tim Black has stated so
far. But it is shameful that an organisation that purports
to be at the forefront of defending reproductive choice and
providing good medical services has presented its change of
policy in the way it has.
Abortion clinics back cut
to a 20-week limit
BRITAIN'S largest provider
of abortions outside the National Health Service has changed
its policy to back a lowering of the legal limit at which
pregnancies may be terminated for non- medical reasons.
Marie Stopes International,
which carries out 60,000 abortions a year at its nine clinics
in Britain, says the 24-week limit ought to lowered to 20
weeks because of evidence that the foetus is "potentially
viable" before 24 weeks.
This shift in policy leaves
opponents to a reduction in the time limit, who include Tony
Blair and many Labour MPs, increasingly isolated.
In altering its stance Marie
Stopes has followed Lord Steel, the former Liberal Democrat
leader and architect of Britain's abortion law in 1967, who
now believes the limit should be reduced. Michael Howard,
the Conservative leader, has made abortion an election issue
by calling for a reduction from 24 to 20 weeks.
Marie Stopes says it will
now back such a change as part of a compromise deal if the
reform also included making abortion more easily available
for non-medical reasons in the earliest stages of pregnancy
up to 12 weeks.
Dr Tim Black, chief executive
of Marie Stopes International, said: "Public opinion is in
favour of abortion but falls off quite quickly when we get
to 20 weeks because there is a perception that the foetus
is potentially viable. We do feel that in light of medical
developments the upper limit should come down."
Opinion began to shift last
year towards a change in the law when three-dimensional ultrasound
images were published that showed a baby making a walking-like
movement in the womb 12 weeks into pregnancy, thumb-sucking
and yawning at 14 weeks and opening its eyes at 18 weeks.
In addition medical advances mean premature babies born at
23 weeks - or, on a few occasions, 22 weeks - can now survive.
As part of any reform, however,
Marie Stopes would also want women to be eligible for abortions
up to 12 weeks without having to gain permission from doctors
- two must now give their written consent for the procedure.
It says women seeking a termination between 13 and 20 weeks
should have the signature of one doctor.
Black added: "If we brought
the limit down to 20 weeks but made abortion more readily
available up to 12 weeks, we believe that would be a reasonable