Thank you to those who have contacted me about fetal sentience and abortion.
I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is, and I appreciate the strength of feelings on all sides. It is for this reason that, as with other matters of conscience, the Government rightly adopts a neutral stance on abortion, allowing Conservative MPs to vote freely according to their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. This is a convention which I support wholeheartedly.
I understand that, in the last ten years, the body of knowledge relating to fetal sentience has been expanding, such that in 2019 the NHS recommended pain relief for fetuses undergoing surgery for spina bifida from 20 weeks onwards. I also know that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has not recommended the use of analgesia or anaesthesia for the fetus in utero, including for abortions. There is a wide range of guidance and research in this area, reaching a wide range of recommendations and conclusions.
In response to a recent question in Parliament, my colleague Maggie Throup MP (Minister for Public Health) stated while that officials keep evidence on fetal viability under review, there is currently no clear consensus from the medical profession that the age of viability has reduced below 24 weeks.
I believe it is vital that, on a matter this sensitive and important, the broadest possible scope of scientific research is examined, informing a comprehensive debate. I would encourage all my colleagues across the House and on all sides of the discussion to engage in this debate.
Thank you again to those who took the time to raise this with me.