Hammond Adds to Cabinet Calls to Lower U.K. Abortion Time Limit

U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said he favors cutting the time limit for woman to abort a fetus to “22 or 20 weeks,” becoming the latest Tory Cabinet minister to urge a change in the law.

Hammond, speaking in an interview yesterday at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, central England, joined Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Home Secretary Theresa May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in backing a reduction from the 24-week limit set when abortion was legalized in Britain in the 1960s. Hunt called for the limit to be set at 12 weeks.

“This is a matter of personal conscience,” Hammond said, recalling that former Conservative leader Michael Howard had proposed reducing the limit to 20 or 22 weeks. “I supported his suggestion of looking at that proposal. I am not sure whether 20 or 22, but I am sure in my own mind that 12 weeks is going too far.”

Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC yesterday the government, in which the Conservatives share power with the Liberal Democrats, has “no plans” to bring in new abortion laws. He was speaking after the London-based Times newspaper cited Hunt as calling for the 12-week limit in an interview.

“I am sure Jeremy Hunt has got very good personal reasons to make the suggestion he has,” Hammond said.

Women’s rights campaigners expressed alarm at Hunt’s call, with Professor Wendy Savage, a prominent gynecologist, saying the number of abortions that take place at more than 20 weeks is very small and largely of fetuses with abnormalities.

“I think that when Parliament originally enacted the 24-week limit that meant something in relation to medical technology at the time,” Hammond said. “Technology has moved on and babies are able to survive at shorter periods of gestation now than they were seven or eight years ago and therefore it is appropriate to look again to make sure we are in keeping with the spirit of what Parliament intended when it said 24 weeks.”

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