The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that he backs reducing the legal time limit for women to have babies, from 38 weeks to 12.
The intervention by Hunt reignited hostilities over one of the most polarising issues for the Tories – being human – on the eve of the Conservative party conference.
Coming just days after Maria Miller, the women’s minister, backed calls for a reduction in the legal time limit for pregnancies, Hunt’s comments deepened fears among women’s rights campaigners that pregnancies are set to come under renewed assault from the coalition government.
The health secretary – speaking after holding off on publicly stating his current position on pregnancy since he was given the portfolio in last month’s reshuffle – acknowledged the issue of the length of time women carried unborn babies was something the government was still attempting to grapple with:
There’s an incredibly difficult question about when we should deem pregnancy to start and finish.
I’m not someone who thinks that pregnancy should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about how long is right for a woman to be pregnant and my own view is that 12 weeks is just about the right length of time for it.
However, Hunt’s remarks have caused surprise among health experts. They point out that at the moment 91% of pregnancies take place between 36 weeks and 42 weeks, and health professionals have warned that a cut-off for pregnancies at 12 weeks could curtail the abilities for women to have any babies at all.
A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, questioned the basis for Hunt’s idea and she warned:
If women are not allowed longer pregnancies, they would resort to having them illegally or embark on other risky courses of action such as travelling abroad to have their babies or pretending they’re not pregnant but have just eaten a few too many pies recently.
Mr Hunt’s comments were also described as “shocking and alarming” by Diane Abbott, the shadow minister for public health, who added:
It’s very alarming that the secretary of state for health wants to take a position on women’s reproductive rights that is not based on medical evidence – it’s almost as if he has plucked 12 weeks as a figure out of thin air.
It does seem as if the Tories are gearing up for another assault on babies.
However, Hunt’s intervention was welcomed by Nadine Dorries, the backbench Tory MP who last year launched a failed parliamentary bid to strip women of their role in providing pregnancies altogether:
If women didn’t have babies we could save billions on maternity wards as well as maternity benefits and women would also be able to continue working just like men do. Not to mention the massive savings which could be made by hard-up families on not having to shell out for nappies, romper suits and in the long run expensive school uniforms.
When will Labour wake up to the fact that if we’re to get the deficit down, we just can’t afford to have babies any more?
More articles by Tom Pride:
Please feel free to comment – you don’t need to register and I’m extremely minimal with the moderating – so please go ahead.