In a nutshell
A vote on whether doctors should be required to provide factual information and counselling for any woman considering whether to abort a baby diagnosed with a serious disability.
On 20 May 2008 MPs voted on a series of amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act. The amendments were tabled as part of the House of Commons’ scrutiny of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. This amendment, tabled by Labour MP Dr Nick Palmer, required that any woman considering the abortion of a baby diagnosed with a serious disability should be provided with:
- Scientific information about the baby’s condition, as well as its likely life expectancy and treatment options.
- Contact details of supportive service providers.
- An opportunity to receive counselling and further information.
Introducing the amendment, Dr Palmer MP said:
“New clause 8 is the only amendment to focus on late abortion in the case of severe disability… [and] would offer additional, strictly neutral information to help the woman at what may be the most difficult juncture in her life… New clause 8 would essentially require neutral scientific information and counselling on a diagnosed condition to be offered to any woman considering an abortion. In practice, the effect would be that the Department of Health would need to provide a briefing pack on the conditions that the tests can disclose—Down’s syndrome, club foot, cleft palate and so on—that also covered, for example, life expectancy, quality of life, availability of treatment and support groups…I would say that any prospective parent in doubt about whether to have an abortion would surely wish to know those basic facts. They will want to ask, ‘What is the life expectancy if I go ahead? What kind of quality of life will the child have? What treatment is available and what support groups are there?'”1
Dr Palmer made clear that his amendment was “simply about ensuring that there is informed choice”.2 However, pro-abortion MPs opposed the amendment because they claimed a statutory requirement is unnecessary.
Although the Palmer amendment applied only to abortion for foetal disability, it would have enshrined the principle of informed consent in abortion law for the first time. The amendment was rejected by 309 votes to 173.
How we recorded the vote
- Voted for providing information and offering counselling to women considering abortion for foetal abnormality in 2008
- Voted against providing information and offering counselling to women considering abortion for foetal abnormality in 2008
- Abstained or was absent on the vote for providing information and offering counselling to women considering abortion for foetal abnormality in 2008