EXCL Tory vice-chair for women calls for 'debate' on lowering abortion time limit
A senior Conservative MP has called for a "debate" on whether it is time to lower the 24-week time limit for abortions.
Maria Caulfield, the party's vice-chair for women, said the UK's abortion laws were among the "most liberal" in the world and there should be a discussion on relaxing them.
The Lewes MP was criticised by Labour after being appointed to the role by Theresa May in January over her previous attempts to block the relaxation of abortion laws.
She spoke out against Labour MP Diana Johnson's bid to prevent women who accessed drugs for abortion online from being prosecuted.
In an interview with the latest edition of The House magazine, Ms Caulfield said: "We’ve got one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, and if you look at the abortion debate that’s happening in Ireland at the moment where they’re about to have a referendum later this year, they’re only looking at termination up to 12 weeks.
"We’re up to 24 weeks, in most parts of Europe it’s 15,16 weeks. With medical advances, we’ve got babies born now at 18, 19 weeks. I think it’s something like 50% of babies after 22 weeks are viable and yet abortion is still freely available up to 24 weeks."
She added: "I think we probably need to be doing some inquiries into what medically is feasible. As legislators we want to be producing evidenced-based laws.
"As much as those who want to have freely available abortion to term want to have that debate, those of us who have got slight concerns about the current time limit would also welcome that debate to argue the case the other way."
On the controversy surrounding her previous comments on abortion, Ms Caulfield said: "It was very disappointing to see my views on abortion being misrepresented, because if people actually read Hansard during that debate, my argument is around decriminalisation.”
She added: “The current law where you have to see two doctors before going to have an abortion protects vulnerable women. So, women who are maybe being pressurised into having an abortion by a partner, women who are maybe being pressurised into sex selective abortion… it’s a very traumatic time and lots of women are uncertain about definitely going ahead with it.
"Having those two doctors where there’s independent space to talk about why you’re undergoing that and why you’re thinking of having it done is really precious time.
“To decriminalise that and to get rid of that ability to be able to go and see an independent doctor and to have that space, I think puts vulnerable women really at risk. So, that was our reason for why we didn’t want the law to change because one; abortion is freely accessible in this country, and secondly; women aren’t being prosecuted."