MPs: Abortions being carried out for cleft palates
Abortion laws should be urgently reviewed amid evidence that pregnancies are being terminated up until full term simply because of cosmetic flaws, according to a committee of MPs and peers.
A parliamentary commission has concluded that the rules allowing foetuses to be aborted as late as 40 weeks on grounds of disability are outdated and could amount to “discrimination”.
They heard claims that the way the law was being applied amounted to a form of “eugenics” and was no longer fit for a “civilised society”.
The commission, chaired by the Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, is calling for it to be re-examined in light of medical advances and new legal commitments.
In a report to be published today and seen by The Telegraph, they argue that the current practices could even be in breach the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The rules are being applied in a “haphazard” way with no clear legal definition of how seriously disabled a child is thought likely to be in order to justify a termination, the report finds.
In extreme cases it has led to foetuses being aborted purely because screening has detected a cleft lip or club foot, conditions which can be dealt with after birth, according to the committee. Under the 1967 Abortion Act, a termination can be carried out up until 24 weeks gestation if two doctors agree that the physical or mental health of the woman or the child would be at risk if the pregnancy were to continue.
But doctors can also approve an abortion up to 40 weeks if doctors think there is a “substantial risk” that the child will be “seriously” handicapped. This reason is given in around 2,700 cases a year.
The committee – which includes representatives of all three major parties and Baroness Hollins, the outgoing president of the BMA – is calling for the limits to be equalised between the two categories of termination or for disability abortion to be eliminated altogether.
If not, it is calling for full post-mortem examinations to be carried out on all foetuses aborted after 24 weeks to prevent the rules being bent.
The committee, which heard from medical bodies, campaign groups, doctors, lawyers and parents, said that a majority of those who gave evidence viewed abortion on disability grounds as “discriminatory”.
“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 foetus beyond the age of viability,” the report says.
“Given the changes in domestic and international law and societal attitudes in recent years which are influencing views on disability, we recommend that Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability.”