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Lachlan de Crespigny’s Posts

Legal Abortion Time-Limits: Arbitrary Limits Harm Women

By Dr. Lachlan de Crespigny, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne

The vote by the British parliament to keep the upper legal limit on abortion at 24 weeks was headline news around the world. An article in The Economist (1) considers that the British were spared America’s abortion wars partly because Britain is less religious than America, but also because abortion laws are made in Parliament, where shades of grey can be debated, not in the courts, where black or white usually prevails.

Interestingly much of the debate was about ‘viability’ – the minimum gestational age at which a newborn is said to be capable of surviving with modern intensive care facilities. This is a simple across-the-board week count. But the survival rate of newborns also depends on many other factors, including where they are born (2, 3), fetal health including the presence or absence of an abnormality (which remains lawful where the child will be ‘seriously handicapped’), plus the condition of the newborn. While around half or so of 24 week newborns in Britain may survive, many or most of the abortions at around that gestation are of problem, or unhealthy, pregnancies.

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