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As the number of babies surviving at 23 weeks grows, calls for abortion reform in Great Britain mount

by | Sep 5, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

 Premature: Lily Burrows, pictured with mother Gillian, had just a 5 per cent chance of survival when she was born prematurely at 23 weeks. A significant number of babies born at 23 weeks now survive

Premature: Lily Burrows, pictured with mother Gillian, had just a 5 per cent chance of survival when she was born prematurely at 23 weeks. A significant number of babies born at 23 weeks now survive

Watching the abortion debate in Great Britain from afar means you ordinarily don’t have the depth and breadth of information to completely understand the back and forth. But what you can know is that (as is so often the case with abortion anywhere), undeniable truths are fudged or avoided or both.

The truth is that the up-to-24 week limitation is a fraud. A woman can have an abortion until birth. How can that be?

British law has a sweeping loophole: abortions are allowed after 24 weeks if there is “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (the notorious “Ground E”). Disability is flexibly defined and its usage very much under-reported.

Periodically, there is an attempt to roll back the 24 week “limitation,” which is met with howls of protest. Pro-abortionists argue (a) the slippery slope—any rollback=the eventual end of legal abortion; or (b) it’s nobody’s business and whether a woman has an abortion five minutes before she is scheduled to go the hospital is up to her.

But then there are events which can alter the calculus and the conversation. One recent example came from The Sunday Times. According to Health Editor Sarah-Kate Templeton:

“AT LEAST 120 babies born during week 23 of a pregnancy — the last week when abortions on demand are legal — have survived in the past four years, The Sunday Times can reveal.

“New figures show the number of babies who are born before the 24-week legal abortion limit and survive is rising at large hospitals with specialist doctors. The real number of week 23 babies who survived is likely to be higher, as it is based on a sample of 25 hospitals that replied to a request under freedom of information laws.

“The disclosure will revive the debate over the legal limit for abortion. In 2008, MPs voted against moves to reduce the limit to 22 or 20 weeks.”

Using information obtained via Freedom of Information laws, the Sunday Times found that at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, six of eight babies born at 23 weeks last year survived.

In addition, writes the Daily Mail’s Ben Spencer, “Six of seven babies born at 23 weeks at University College London Hospitals last year lived. All five born at that point at North Bristol NHS Trust last year also survived.”

The explanation?

Dr. Ngozi Edi-Osagie, clinical director of neo-natal services at Central Manchester University Hospitals, told Spencer,

‘It is a concentration of expertise, both in medical and nursing, that contribute to making a difference in survival at this very low gestation.’

These new figures, Spencer writes, support “what we have known for a while: that advances in pre-natal care make a mockery of our 24-week abortion limit.” And of course these numbers are only from some of the hospitals.

Supporters of the current “limitation” rely on outdated information, according to the Daily Mail.

“A commonly cited study, based on evidence gathered in 2006, suggested that just 19 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks survived.

“But new research shows that many British specialist neo-natal units have vastly improved on those survival rates, and some even see the majority of babies born at 23 weeks surviving.”

Fiona Bruce, Tory MP and member of the all-party parliamentary pro-life group, told Spencer, “I do not understand why there is not more outcry about the fact that we allow viable babies to be aborted.”

But it will be a decidedly uphill struggle, nonetheless. Spencer explains

“MPs have so far shown little appetite to change the rules. They were given a series of free votes on the issue in 2008, with new suggested limits ranging from 12 to 22 weeks.

“The proposal for a 20-week limit was defeated by 332 votes to 190. The closest vote, on a 22-week limit, was defeated by 304 to 233. It was the first major challenge to Britain’s abortion laws since 1990, when the legal limit was lowered from 28 to 24 weeks.”

But Spencer ends with the kind of anecdotal evidence that sometimes can help shift opinion.

Lily Burrows was born at 23 weeks, weighing 1lb 3oz. Doctors gave Lily just a 5 per cent chance of survival, her parents said. And, of course, they were told that she would have long-term health problems and could require lifelong medical care. At one point doctors even talked, her mother Gillian Lindsay said, “about turning off her life support. But Lilly had other ideas.”

Spencer ends with this encouraging news about Lilly:

“She is now starting at St Mary’s Primary School in Bonnyrigg, near Edinburgh – and there is barely a clue as to her difficult start to life. Her mother said her daughter was a ‘very clever, very active and very loving little girl’.

“She added: ‘I owe so much to the midwives, doctors and nurses who looked after her in those early days.’”

Categories: Premature babies