UK Parliamentary report: Reform Abortion Act to end discrimination against disabled babies
The report, the work of a cross-party Commission, said the current legislation is outdated, allowing disabled babies to be aborted until the time of birth, and is in urgent need of reform.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, said, “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.”
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. That would require repealing Section 1(1)(d).
“Parliament should consider at the very least the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory,” she said.
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 percent increase over 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, a fact that concerned the Commission.
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Down syndrome also accounted for around one quarter (512) of all Ground E abortions. Approximately 90 percent 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.
“Repealing that law would be the abolition of eugenic abortions against our people,” he said. “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.”
Sullivan concluded, “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.”