Free-voting MPs have decided not to change the abortion laws to bring down the upper limit from 24 weeks to 22, and there will be no change in IVF treatment to require that doctors consider the need for a father. (See our previous posts on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill here, here and here.)
A BBC news website story quotes the Tory MP and former nurse Nadine Dorries, who proposed a 20-week limit, and said in the debate last night, "There comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life." But her plan was defeated by 332 votes to 190. A move to bring in a 22-week limit was opposed by 304 votes to 233.
The IVF vote will come as a relief to lesbian couples seeking to have children by artificial insemination.
You can see the BBC video of some of the debate here.
Objections to leaving the abortion limit where it is and to allowing IVF without considering the need for a father have mainly come from Catholic MPs, and it was this religious lobby that persuaded Prime Minister Gordon Brown to allow Labour MPs a free vote on certain aspects of the Bill, rather than whipping them.
One Tory MP, Edward Leigh, pressed for a 12-week limit. He claimed that 89 per cent of abortions are for social reasons, 1.3 per cent are for foetuses that are damaged and 0.4 per cent are performed in the case of risk to a mother's life. This Catholic father of six children, all by his wife Mary, said, "I believe we should give that silent child a voice."
Around 54.9 per cent of abortions are reckoned to be carried out under nine weeks in England and Wales; 34.3 per cent in 9–12 weeks; 9.2 per cent in 13–19 weeks; and 1.5 per cent in 20–24 weeks. The BBC (very helpfully) has a handy little chart of abortions from 1971 to 2006.