Speaking at Marie Stopes International’s Global Safe Abortion Conference in London on Wednesday (24 October), Lord David Steel endorsed calls for reforms to end the requirement for the written consent of two doctors before any abortion can proceed.
To an audience of nearly 800 doctors, politicians, pro-choice activists, donors and members of civil society from over 60 countries, the architect of the 1967 Abortion Act said:
“Many argue that the “two doctors” requirement causes undesirable delay, and since 1967 many of our European neighbours have legislated for abortion up to the 12th or 13th week of pregnancy without such a requirement. The [Parliamentary Science and Technology] Committee should address that.”
Lord Steel also appeared to back the Department of Health position on retaining the current 24 week limit for most abortions.
“There needs to be convincing evidence of viability earlier than that to justify a further change – improvements in photographic technique are not themselves sufficient.”
Lord Steel also clarified his position on the number of abortions carried out in Britain today.
“There can be no such thing as a “correct” number of abortions,” he said. “We in Britain have a much lower rate than in the USA where the subject is a bigger and sometimes more violent debate.
“Each individual case has to be considered on its merits, and the best person to judge that is in most cases the pregnant woman herself.”
Lord Steel was speaking at the final plenary session at the conference, which was organised by Marie Stopes International in association with Abortion Rights and Ipas. The conference was convened to mark the 40th anniversary of Lord Steel’s groundbreaking act (27 October, 2007) and also explored abortion as a global public health and rights issue which annual claims 66,000 women’s lives.