British lawmakers could vote Tuesday to lower the 24 week time limit for women to terminate a pregnancy in what would be the first major change to abortion laws here in nearly 20 years.
The vote comes after the House of Commons backed by a clear margin Monday the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos, which can supply stem cells for medical research into conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
AdvertisementLawmakers also rejected a bid to outlaw "saviour siblings" -- children created as a genetic match for a sick brother or sister so their genetic material can treat them.
All the issues are being debated as part of the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill. But the vote on whether the current 24 week abortion limit should be cut to 22, 20 or 16 weeks is expected to be much closer.
The wide-ranging bill would also give lesbians easier access to IVF treatment by removing requirements for clinics to consider a child's need for a father in measures also being debated and voted on Tuesday.
Britain has one of the highest abortion rates, and latest cut-off dates for the procedure, in the European Union. In 2006, 193,700 abortions were performed on women living in England and Wales. It was legalised in 1967.
Supporters of lowering the abortion time limit say that survival rates of premature babies have increased with better medical technology and that it should therefore be changed.
"Advances in neo-natal care mean that babies born at 23 weeks cannot merely survive, but grow up to lead valuable and valued lives," the Daily Telegraph newspaper said in an editorial Tuesday.
"It is difficult to argue a case against a reduction to 22 weeks (or even 20, given the pace of medical progress) and we trust MPs (members of parliament) will vote accordingly."
Nadine Dorries, a lawmaker for the main opposition Conservatives who is proposing a 20 week limit, told the Daily Mail newspaper earlier this month: "We have reached the point where we need to pull back on abortion.
"If we don't there is no question that we will overtake America in the next couple of years, making us the abortion capital of the world."
But the British Medical Association (BMA), the professional body for doctors here, does not support a reduction in the current time limit, along with several other bodies representing medics.
"It is the BMA's view ... that there is no evidence of significant improvement in the survival of extremely preterm infants to support reducing the 24-week limit for legal abortion," it said in a briefing paper ahead of the debate.
Some 86 lawmakers have signed a parliamentary motion backing the 24-week limit and saying the best way to cut abortions is by reducing unwanted pregnancies through better sex education and more access to contraception.
Parliamentarians have a free vote on sensitive parts of the bill, meaning that they do not have to follow a party line and can follow their consciences.
The bill must be approved by unelected upper chamber the House of Lords before it can pass into law.
The votes come during another turbulent week for the beleaguered British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has been hit by slumping poll ratings since failing to call an expected general election last October.
A Guardian/ICM poll published Tuesday said his Labour Party's rating was the worst since the heyday of ex Conservative premier Margaret Thatcher in 1987. It gave Labour 27 percent support compared to 41 percent for the Conservatives.
Other polls suggest Labour could lose a key by-election Thursday in Crewe and Nantwich, north-west England, a former Labour stronghold, to the Conservatives.