MORE than one in ten babies born before the UK abortion limit lives to see their first birthday, official figures have revealed.
Out of 750 babies born before 24 weeks in the womb, 92 lived for at least a year, the infant mortality data from the UK Office of National Statistics show.
The figures from 2010 are sure to reignite the abortion debate following comments by Jeremy Hunt, the new UK Health Secretary and Maria Miller, the new women's minister that the current 24 week limit should be lower.
David Cameron has ruled out a new Parliamentary debate on the limit.
The figures show that five babies born at less than 22 weeks gestation out of 247 born alive, lived for at least a year, 11 out of 171 born at 22 weeks lived, and 76 out of 332 born at 23 weeks survived.
The survival rate, as shown in the ONS figures, had not changed significantly over the previous four years, hoovering between 11.5 per cent and 13.5 per cent.
Experts said survival of very premature babies has not changed dramatically for twenty years and disability rates remain high in those who live.
Doctors do not usually attempt resusitation and life savings measures in babies born under 22 weeks unless the infant is particularly strong and well.
Overall the figures show that infant mortality has dropped steadily from 4.7 per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 4.1 per cent per 1,000 in 2010.
Women under the age of 20 and over 40 were more likely to have a baby die before a year old, generally because they were more likely to be born prematurely.
Babies born as twins or triplets were five times more likely to die.
Neil Marlow, Professor of Neonatal Medicine at University College London and co-author of the Epicure studies on premature baby survival said: "Survival at 23 weeks has remained very low and in many hospitals there are very few survivors.
"Even in the hospitals that do offer care subject to parents wishes the outcomes are much the same as in 1995.
"This doesn't mean that we do not see successful outcomes at 23 weeks, simply that they remain very rare. "Gestational age assessment is relatively imprecise and it may be that some of these children are in fact more mature.
" This is in contrast to the improving outlook at 24 and 25 weeks, where we have seen significant improvements in survival and in survival without impairment between 1995 and 2006, which we hope to publish details of very soon."
Anthony Ozimic, communications manager of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said: ”Anyone who has experienced the trauma of a premature birth will warmly welcome scientific advances in saving prematurely-born babies, but the viability of unborn children should not be used as a guide for reforming the law on abortion.
"Viability is a criterion which varies from place to place in the country and from place to place in the world.
"Viability has nothing to do with the humanity of the child in the womb; it has everything to do with technological progress and the excellence and dedication of medical staff.
"A child's capacity to survive is not what makes him or her a human being. When a premature baby, after receiving expert treatment, sadly dies, doctors are not criticised for treating a non-person.
"They have tried to save a baby, but sadly failed. Passing legislation on such an arbitrary basis leads to legislatures making equally arbitrary exceptions – as the UK Parliament did in 1990, making abortion lawful up till birth for disabled babies and on certain other grounds.”
Anne Scanlan, of the pro-life group Life, said: "The survival rates for pre-term babies, released by ONS, is just further proof of the humanity of the unborn child. Thanks to the free availability of 4D ultrasound images we now have a window on the womb and we can no longer ignore the fact that abortion ends the life of an unborn child.
"As the general public become increasingly aware of foetal development, they feel more and more uncomfortable with the reality of abortion, and with late term abortions in particular.
"We are delighted that the need for change is finally being recognised, and that politicians are at last beginning to question our current abortion laws."
A spokesman for BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out most abortions on behalf of the NHS, said:“Survival rates for extremely premature infants are sadly extremely poor, as this data shows.
"There is certainly no new scientific evidence to warrant a reduction in the abortion time limit, as certain ministers have suggested in recent days.
"But the science will only ever be one component of the discussion around abortion – the reality and needs of women’s lives are just as important. A very small number of women will continue to need abortion after 20 weeks for very good reasons.”
Natika Halil, Director of Information Services at the Family Planning Association, said: “FPA’s support of the abortion time limit of 24 weeks is guided by the latest medical evidence and clinical guidance."
Rebecca Smith Telegraph.co.uk