A private members’ bill was introduced in the British House of Lords on December 7, 2023, to reduce the term limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 22 weeks, except in the most serious of health circumstances. The Abortion (Gestational Time Limit Reduction) Bill is short, containing only two clauses. The first would amend section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act 1967 by replacing the term ‘twenty-fourth’ with ‘twenty-second.’ The second clause applies the bill to England and Wales, stipulates that it would enter into force two months after the date the bill is passed, and provides that it may be cited as the Abortion (Gestational Time Limit Reduction) Act 2024.
Private Members’ Bills are afforded significantly less time in Parliament for debate and discussion than bills put forward by the government and, as a result, are not typically enacted, but they frequently serve to raise awareness of an issue.
Section 1(a) of the Abortion Act 1967 currently permits abortions up to 24 weeks if two registered medical practitioners have a good faith opinion that “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.” Section 1(b)–(d) currently permits abortions at any point in the pregnancy if two registered medical practitioners have a good faith opinion that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or a risk to her life, or if there is a substantial risk that the child would be seriously handicapped if born.
Abortions are provided free of charge by the National Health Service (NHS) and can be provided to those under 16 years of age without parental consent, although the NHS states that “the doctor or nurse may encourage [the minor] to tell a parent, carer or other adult [she] trust[s], but they will not make [her do so].” The Abortion Act also provides individuals with the right to conscientiously object to participating in treatment under the act.
Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
January 30, 2024
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