“The Government must review the Abortion Act and end the discrimination against unborn disabled children” says a major new UK Parliamentary Report.
The report, the work of a cross-party Commission, says that the current legislation is out-dated, allowing abortion for disabled babies up to birth, and is in urgent need of reform.
A number of recommendations, which are aimed at reforming the rules governing abortion on the grounds of disability, and ending the wide disparities in how the Act is applied across the UK are presented in the report.
The Commission chair, Conservative backbench MP Fiona Bruce, says: “it is time to review the moral, ethical, legal and practical framework within which this provision of the Abortion Act operates and how the law applies to a fetus beyond the age of viability.”
Bruce went on to say that “Parliament should consider at the very least the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory”.
The options are to reduce the upper time limit for abortion on disability grounds, and to make the upper limit the same as able bodied unborn babies, repealing Section 1(1)(d).
According to the Department of Health, in 2012 there were 2,692 abortions carried out under “Ground E of the Abortion Act 1967.” This was a 17% increase on the previous year; 160 of these abortions took place after 24 weeks.
Some treatable conditions such as cleft palate and club foot were being used to justify abortion on the grounds of disability which concerned the Commission.
Down syndrome also accounted for around one quarter (512) of all Ground E abortions and approximately nine in 10 (90%) of all unborn babies diagnosed with this condition were aborted.
Leading New Zealand disability rights campaigner Mike Sullivan of Saving Downs had called for a change in the UK law. He was delighted with the outcome of the report saying “Repealing that law would be the abolition of eugenic abortions against our people. Saving Downs advocates on this position and we are absolutely delighted to see such a strong and just recommendation emerge from this inquiry.”
Sullivan noted that a change in the UK’s discriminatory law “would be a defining moment for the Down syndrome community in the UK,” and that it was likely “to have downstream effects in countries such as New Zealand and Australia, as the screening and disability selective abortion programmes in those two countries mirror the UK ones.”
Mrs Bruce hoped that the Commission’s findings would “kick start and inform a much needed debate on this issue.”
Mike concluded that “time will tell how the recommendations develop into changes, but we can be sure that this is a momentous and historic stepping stone towards full social justice for our community.”
In New Zealand one cannot legally abort a baby after 20 weeks for foetal abnomalities, but apparently one can if the mother’s mental health is at risk. I guess if we can get around this in NZ they will also do so in the UK even if they ban late eugenic abortions. According to ALRANZ, this is what happens in NZ:
“This is a ground up to 20 weeks but sometimes the diagnosis is not made until after 20 weeks and the abortion must be done on the grounds of serious permanent injury to the mental health of the woman. In the past the Abortion Supervisory Committee has pointed out this anomaly to Parliament more than once but no action has been taken. This situation is distressing for the woman and her family.” http://www.alranz.org/laws/whyweneedachange/whatiswrong.html
Unfortunately in the UK report there wasn’t a strong emphasis on banning ALL abortions done for eugenic reasons, I guess because if you can abort babies earlier in pregnancy for any reason, then why not for eugenic reasons? And since comparatively few babies are aborted for eugenic reasons, well why not let it continue for the really hard cases? That’s the overall impression I got after reading the report. Some great recommendations undermined by the realisation that there was probably no way the law re abortion was going to change much.