Tory vice-chair for women Maria Caulfield has called for a debate on UK abortion laws, claiming there is “significant” public support for the time limit to be lower than 24 weeks.
The Lewes MP said the UK has the some of the “most liberal” abortion laws in the world and the public want a fresh discussion on the issue.
Theresa May came under fire from Labour for promoting Caulfield, who has previously attempted to block the relaxation of abortion laws, in her January reshuffle.
In an interview with The House magazine, Caulfield said: “If you look at the polling, there’s significant support from women either not to change the law or to look at the timeframe for abortions.
“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.”
Asked if she thought the time limit should be lowered, she said: “I think we need to have that debate. I’m not someone who’s hard and fast in any of those kinds of views. But I think we do need to have a debate.
“The 24-week limit was introduced at a time when babies were really not viable at 24 weeks. Now babies who are born premature grow up to live long, healthy lives like the rest of us.”
When asked what the time limit should be, she said: “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.”
Caulfield claimed her views about abortion has been “misrepresented” and had been about “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.
“But the way it was portrayed in the press was we wanted to put any woman who’d ever had an abortion into prison.”
Caulfield also said she would be happy for transgender women to join the Tories’ flagship Women To Win programme to get more females to stand for Parliament.
“I personally would be happy to accept that,” she said. “There’s not really rules around that. So again, as a party we’ve not really tied ourselves up into setting out specific rules, we just welcome people as an individual. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that.”