Criticism for health secretary Alex Neil over support for lowering abortion limit

Alex Neil. Picture: Robert Perry
Alex Neil. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE row over Health Secretary Alex Neil’s support for cutting the 24-week limit on abortions continued yesterday, with women’s rights groups labelling him “out of touch” and “patronising”.

Mr Neil told Scotland on Sunday that abortion legislation should be reviewed if the country voted in favour of independence and responsibility for the law subsequently passed from of independence and responsibility for the law subsequently passed from Westminster to Holyrood.

He said there was a case for reducing the 24-week limit, but stopped short of mirroring UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s call at the weekend for the cut-off to be halved to 12 weeks.

The pro-choice organisation Abortion Rights said yesterday that Scottish women would end up crossing the Border to terminate unwanted pregnancies if the law was tightened in Scotland, but not the rest of Britain.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service also weighed into the furore, claiming politicians like Mr Neil should not be attempting to address their own moral reservations at the expense of a small group of vulnerable women.

Only about 9 per cent of terminations in Britain take place after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion Rights vice-chair Kate Smurthwaite said: “I think it’s incredibly patronising to have this attitude that says we must make some more rules about how women make these decisions.

“The truth is that there are happily married people who have a couple of children already and have good jobs and a nice big country home who say ‘actually, this is not what we want to do’.

“We can look at those situations and go, ‘that’s not the choice I would have made’, but I think it’s not the job of government to make these decisions.

“I think Alex should show a little bit more respect to women and accept that our bodies shouldn’t be a political battleground.”

British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokeswoman Clare Murphy said it was inappropriate for politicians to misuse science to bolster their own moral reservations.

Ms Murphy said: “I’m not sure these politicians actually understand what the impact would be on reducing the time limit on a relatively small number of pretty vulnerable women.

“[We’re talking about]younger women who have hidden their pregnancies, women who haven’t detected their pregnancies until relatively late on – sometimes women who are going through menopause – and women who have had diagnoses of foetal anomalies.”

Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, made the unusual move of taking to Twitter yesterday to berate his party colleague.

“I don’t think the intervention of either [of the] health secretaries has been helpful in the abortion debate,” he wrote.

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie also criticised Mr Neil for failing to reassure the public that an independent Scotland would defend women’s reproductive rights.

He told The Scotsman that strict regulations requiring two doctors to be present for an abortion should be looked at ahead of the issue of time limits.

Anthony Ozimic, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the group feared a review of abortion law in Scotland would lead to other amendments, such as allowing midwives to carry out terminations.