Today, a baby with club foot or cleft palate can and is aborted up to the point of birth in England. The law permits an abortion to take place “up to birth” if tests indicate that the child may be disabled when born, while there is a legal limit of 24 weeks for abortions on other grounds.
Why is that the case? Jane Ellison, the public health minister, says the British parliament has not adequately defined the term “serious handicap” in its abortion laws, which has led to a loophole by which babies with very minor disabilities can be aborted after the 24-week legal limit.
However, she said that the Government is reflecting on the issue and that “we do have some opportunities coming forward… to add clarification through guidelines”.
It comes amid warnings from MPs that the current law on late-term abortions is being applied in a “haphazard fashion” and that the current guidance to doctors is no longer adequate because of medical advances.
The Government is preparing to issue new guidance to doctors on the Abortion Act and how it is being interpreted by medical professionals.
The newspaper indicates thousands of disabled babies are killed in abortions in England who have issues which are easily corrected via surgery.
In 2012, 2,692 foetuses were aborted on the grounds that there was a “substantial risk” that the babies would be “seriously handicapped”. Of those, 160 took place after 24 weeks of gestation.
In a debate in Parliament, Mrs Ellison pointed to evidence that conditions such as a cleft lip and palate could be “an indicator of far more serious problems”.
However, she said: “Concerns have been expressed… that abortions are taking place for abnormalities that are rectifiable after birth.”
She said that the Government would look at the scale of the problem in the country. Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, told MPs: “When mothers and fathers hear the news about a child’s diagnosis with foetal disability, it is important that they are given information about the spectrum and about their options.”
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In an emotional speech, Mrs Bruce spoke of her son, Sam, who was born with a club foot.
She said: “My son had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life. He wore a calliper in his early years and he had two operations, but now no one would never know.
She added: “Yesterday, Sam was 21, and in the past few days has heard that he has been admitted to Oxford University. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived him of life, and he is far from alone.”