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Debate on abortion changes delayed until autumn

By Lilian Anekwe

The Government has come under fire for delaying the debate on the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which proposed changes to abortion rules, until the autumn at the earliest.

Critics claim the delay is for purely political reasons and accused the Government of insensitive handling of the issue.

The debate had been due to take place in Parliament on Monday, when MPs would have voted on whether to accept several amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act.

Amendments tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris and former health secretary Frank Dobson would have meant that women would be able to choose if they would like the second stage of an early medical abortion in their own home rather than a GP practice or hospital clinic.

Pro-choice MPs and lobbyists were also calling for an amendment that would have removed the need for a woman to seek the permission of two doctors for an abortion, and would have meant that nurses and ‘suitably trained health professionals' would be able to perform abortions as well as GPs.

But in a Commons session yesterday, Commons Leader Harriet Harman told MPs that the bill would not now be debated for at least three months.

Jim Dobbin, chair of the All Party Parliamentary pro-life group said the government was handling the legislation in an ‘insensitive' way, and added: ‘The likely reason is the enormous public uproar the bill, with its hugely controversial proposals, has had.'

Ms Harman said it had been postponed to allow more time for debate and said the Bill remained a ‘flagship government bill'.

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