British Doctors Want Clearer Info on Handicapped Baby Abortion Law

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 1, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Doctors Want Clearer Info on Handicapped Baby Abortion Law Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
October 1, 2004

London, England ( — Following an investigation into an apparent illegal abortion of a child with a cleft lip, British doctors want clearer definitions of the country’s abortion laws, according to a recent survey.

Joanna Jepson, a curate of the Church of England has sought to charge doctors who performed a late-term abortion solely because the child had a cleft palate. Jepson argued that a cleft lip was not a "serious handicap," which British law requires as a condition for allowing a late-term abortion.

In a survey of 500 doctors for ITV1’s "Tonight with Trevor McDonald" show, 72 percent said they wanted clear definitions of what a "serious handicap" constitutes. Only nine percent thought that the cleft lip should have qualified.

The poll showed 53 percent believed abortion of a Down’s syndrome child and 59 percent thought spina bifida should be counted as "serious handicaps" that would warrant an abortion.

When asked if late-term abortions were too easily obtained under Britian’s current laws, 36 percent of the doctors said they were and 34 percent said they were not.

If the doctors in the Jepson case were prosecuted, 89 percent of the doctors said they would be more cautious in approving late-term abortions.

Last month, police turned over the results of their investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will ultimately make the decision for or against prosecution.

During court proceedings earlier this year, 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.

"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.

"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," Jepson said. "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.

A cleft palate occurs approximately once every 700 births, according to, 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."