Baby survival rates reignite abortion debate

Abortion debate flares as premature baby survival ‘doubles’

The abortion debate was raging today as new figures show survival rates of premature babies has doubled in the last 20 years.

A study at one of Britain’s top neonatal units found that one third of babies born between 22 and 25 weeks’ gestation survived in the early Eighties but this had risen to 71 per cent by the late Nineties.

Anti-abortion activist say this is proof the current limit of 24 weeks should be lowered, while pro-choice campaigners say the study is too small to be significant.

The research, by neo-natal consultant Professor John Wyatt, looked at births at University College Hospital in London between 1981 and 2000.

It found survival rates had risen from 32 to 71% – most significantly after 1996. It also showed increases in survival rates at 22 and 23 weeks – before the termination threshold – but the numbers were too small to be statistically significant.

The study contradicts the findings of a recent study of all British maternity units which indicated little improvement between 1995 and 2006 in survival rates of babies born before 24 weeks.

Most scientists back this study, and last year the Commons science and technology committee used it to conclude there was no need to change the law.

But Professor Wyatt insists that survival rates could soar if there were more neo-natal units around the country, with better staffing and resources.

He said: ‘It is also plausible that ethical and clinical policies vary between units and there is published evidence to show that this will have an effect on survival rates.

‘Single centre studies have statistical limitations because of the relatively small numbers involved and they can also suffer from possible selection bias.

‘But they provide information on the survival rates that can be achieved with consistent levels of staff and resources and with consistent policies.’

MPs are due to debate the abortion laws for the first time in almost 20 years later this month.

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