U.K. Police Reopen Investigation Into Abortion on Baby With Cleft Palate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 17, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

U.K. Police Reopen Investigation Into Abortion on Baby With Cleft Palate

by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
April 17, 2004

London, England (LifeNews.com) — Police in West Mercia have opened a fresh investigation into a late-term abortion in 2001, which was allegedly preformed solely because the unborn child had a cleft palate.

The Rev. Joanna Jepson of St. Michael’s Church in Chester sought to sue Paul West, chief constable of the West Mercia Police, as British Law does not permit abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the child has a serious handicap. Jepson, who had a congenital jaw defect surgically repaired in her late teens, says that such a defect is in no way a “serious handicap.”

The police did not investigate or prosecute in the abortion, on the advise of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"My teenage years were difficult due to facial abnormality," Jepson said after her suit was approved last year. "I also have a brother with Down’s syndrome. We both live positive and fulfilling lives.

"I think the first point is that right from the beginning, a cleft palate cannot be reasonable grounds for a late abortion," Jepson added.

Jepson won approval for her suit from the British High Court last year, and now West Mercia police will be investigating the December 2001 abortion.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ray Groves, charged with heading the investigation, said in a statement that it will be conducted with an "open mind,” and expects the investigation to be completed by early summer.

"Our renewed investigation into this sensitive matter will be carried out with due regard to all the parties involved and in the interests of openness and public confidence in the criminal justice system," said Groves.

Jepson compared the disrespect she received growing up with a facial deformity to the unborn who are not given a chance at life because of it.

"I understand more than most how much importance today’s society places on appearance,” said Jepson. “I had to deal with bullies because the doctors couldn’t do anything until my bones stopped growing. When I was 19 they broke the lower part of my face and reset it.

"The reconstruction made such a difference to the way people treated me. I think we have to challenge the bullies."

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), cleft palate reconstructive surgery has been performed since the early 1900s. Today, it is one of many routine surgeries, and pales in comparison to some of the more complex facial reconstruction cases that modern surgeons encounter.

Cleft palate occurs approximately once every 700 births, according to WrongDiagnosis.com, a website that provides symptom descriptions, treatment options and statistics for 1,200 diseases and conditions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Hereford have expressed their support for Jepson’s lawsuit. Jepson has said that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, privately told her she has his "full backing" in her efforts to stop abortions performed for "trivial reasons."

Jepson’s church is part of the Church of England.