In a nutshell
A vote on whether doctors should have to specify the handicap when carrying out an abortion on that ground. MPs had liberty to vote according to their conscience.
On 21st June 1990 MPs voted on an amendment to the Abortion Act 1967 which would have required doctors carrying out an abortion on the ground that the child would be handicapped, to specify what that handicap was.1 It required the doctors: “…to include an opinion as to the nature of the physical or mental abnormalities from which there is a substantial risk that the child would suffer if it were born”.2Two previous votes3 had the effect of removing the 28 week upper limit on abortions where the reason given was that the child would be handicapped.
If this new amendment were accepted, doctors would have been obliged to document the type of handicap for which the baby was being aborted. This would have ensured that babies were not being destroyed for relatively trivial abnormalities such as an extra digit or for treatable conditions such as a cleft palate.
David Alton said in the debate “Doctors at Guy’s hospital recently advertised for mothers who would otherwise be having abortion on grounds of cleft palate to come forward in order to carry out operations in the womb.”4
Ann Widdecombe also stated:
“…I will refer to a letter that I received form Anthony Rowsell, a consultant plastic surgeon at Guy’s hospital, who is responsible for performing the pre-natal surgery…He informs me that mothers not only have abortions but that they are routinely offered. That should be a cause of worry because the legislation says that abortions should not be offered routinely in the case of minor defects but that there should be a substantial risk of serious disability.”5The vote was tied 199 to 199, with the Deputy Speaker casting his deciding vote with the ‘Noes’ so that the amendment fell.6 The Deputy Speaker Sir Paul Dean, said: “In accordance with precedent I cast my vote to leave the Bill as reported from the Committee, and accordingly my vote is with the Noes, so the Noes have it.”7
How we recorded the vote
- Voted for making doctors specify the handicap when allowing abortion up to birth
- Voted against making doctors specify the handicap when allowing abortion up to birth
- Abstained or was absent on the vote for making doctors specify the handicap when allowing abortion up to birth
- 1House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990, col. 1178 – 1219, debating an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill of that year
- 2House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990, col. 1218
- 3House of Commons, Hansard, 24 April 1990, col 294 – 298, which removed the twenty-eight week limit on the grounds of disability from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill; and Ibid, col 298 – 301 which disapplied the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929.
- 4House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990, col. 1187-1188
- 5House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990, col. 1190
- 6House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990, col. 1220
- 7House of Commons, Hansard, 21 June 1990