By Hilary White

LONDON, November 18, 2009 ( – The British government has gone to court to prevent the publication of statistics on abortions of children with mild disabilities like cleft palates and club foot. The Department of Health has asked the High Court to overturn a Freedom of Information Act ruling that gave the Information Tribunal permission to publish the information.

The Information Tribunal is a government body that hears appeals under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It ruled last month that the Pro-Life Alliance could review the abortion statistics.

The Department of Health refused to release the information claiming that it could lead to women who have late abortions being identified. Department lawyers argued that the information was “sensitive, personal and private.”

Under Ground E of the Abortion Act, babies who are suspected of having a “serious handicap” can be aborted legally in Britain up to the point of full gestation. The Act does not provide specific criteria for physicians to decide what kind of disability is severe enough to warrant killing an unborn child. 

Julia Millington of the Pro-Life Alliance told the Daily Telegraph, “It is a reprehensible waste of public money and court time to continue a fruitless battle to hide this information.

“A country, committed to transparency and openness, accepts and expects that the same principles apply to abortion as to other areas of healthcare practice. These statistics should be made public.”

The Department of Health admits that at least 1900 babies were aborted last year under Ground E, but no longer gives a breakdown specifying the type of disability. This information has been withheld since 2005. When statistics were being released, it was revealed that between 2000 and 2001, nine unborn babies were aborted because of cleft lip and palate.

The killing of children with trivial deformities has come under scrutiny in Britain since it was highlighted by a female Church of England minister, Joanna Jepson, who instigated a legal challenge to the abortion of a 28-week-old child with a cleft palate in 2001. 

Jepson wrote in an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph in 2003 that “more than 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, was a baby unshielded and unwanted, deemed too 'defective' to live a meaningful life. It had no voice, and yet its death cries out to us all to reconsider the value and worth we grant to those who are weakest and most easily dismissed.”


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