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10 / 03 / 2008 - Record 3,000 late abortions a year in Britain as concern rises over 24-week limit
The number of late abortions in Britain has reached a record level, it was revealed today.
Almost 3,000 were carried out on women who were at least 20 weeks pregnant, according to the latest annual figures in England and Wales, representing a 44 per cent increase in less than a decade.
The vast majority were for "lifestyle" reasons - less than a quarter were because of a risk that the child would be born handicapped.
The figures come amid rising concern over the current 24-week time limit for legal abortions.
Campaigners who cite research showing improved survival rates for very premature babies, combined with evidence suggesting young foetuses can feel pain, are putting pressure on MPs ahead of a crucial debate on the issue next month.
MPs are planning to add amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to reduce the limit to 20 or 21 weeks.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, has said he would back such a change.
Doctors yesterday blamed failings in sex education for the rise in late abortions.
Dr Trevor Stammers, a practising GP from the charity Family Youth Concern, said the Government's approach had left the present generation of young women with the impression that abortions were "like having an appendix out".
He blamed "a very casual attitude towards sex, which is aided and abetted by the medical profession".
He told The Sunday Telegraph: "Women get the idea it's a trivial matter and as a result they are much more cavalier about presenting to their GP late."
Abortion providers said the rise in late terminations - from 2,041 in 1997 to 2,948 in 2006 - showed that some women were leading increasingly "out-of-control" lives.
Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "Sometimes it's women who haven't recognised the symptoms of pregnancy.
"Sometimes it is about women who are living very out-of-control lives, often with alcohol or drug problems, and sometimes it's about women whose lives have suddenly changed, whose guy has suddenly left them, so that a wanted pregnancy becomes unwanted."
But Ms Furedi described the rise as "not necessarily bad news" given that "these are the very women for whom it would be a disaster if they were compelled to continue unwanted pregnancies".
Last month, research published by University College London Hospital showed that survival rates for babies born alive between 22 and 25 weeks had increased from 32 to 71 per cent, in under two decades.
In January, Professor Sunny Anand, a foetal pain expert, presented MPs with a study showing that foetuses can feel pain from 20 weeks, showing changes in their expression, and the withdrawal of limbs from painful stimulation.
Source : DAILY MAIL