It “cannot be right” for a society which claims to respect disabled people to “prevent their very existence” by allowing for disability abortions up to birth, a Conservative MP has said.
Fiona Bruce called for the Government to review the abortion law, explaining that a disabled unborn child has “effectively no rights up to birth”.
Speaking during a House of Commons debate, she said many would be shocked to discover they can be aborted “as many as 16 weeks beyond the 24-week threshold for able-bodied babies”.
“But the moment after birth, a whole panoply of rights and support suddenly comes into play for the disabled child”, she commented.
Bruce then spoke of her experience giving birth to her son, Sam, who was born with club foot, a condition for which abortion up to birth is allowed.
“Yet”, she said, “within minutes of his birth, the hospital telephoned its specialist in treating club feet, who was on leave at the time and who rushed in within two hours to begin manipulating Sam’s foot.”
“It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived him of life, and he is far from alone”, she added.
Bruce asked health minister Jane Ellison to “review the application” of the Abortion Act, as she said a “completely inconsistent and contradictory approach to disability” has been developed in this country with reference to the born and unborn child.
“If we do not consider a disabled person of inferior worth after birth, why do so before?” she posed.
At the moment doctors can approve abortions up to full term if they think there is a “substantial risk” that the child will be seriously handicapped, under ground E of the abortion Act.
In 2012, around 2,700 babies were aborted for this reason.
A parliamentary inquiry into disability abortions, led by Bruce last year, took evidence from parents, doctors, academics, disability rights groups and legal experts.
The overwhelming response from the contributors was that allowing abortion up to birth is “discriminatory” and negatively affects public attitudes towards disability.
Bruce requested that Ellison look at the recommendations from the inquiry, which include levelling the legal time limit for abortion of disabled and able-bodied babies, better information for parents of disabled babies, and increased funding for palliative care of newborns.
Ellison responded to Bruce by saying that the decisions for parents in these cases are “exceptionally difficult”, and said she shares concerns that some have felt rushed and have lacked the proper information.
“Ultimately, such decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis and always according to the Act”, she added.
Ellison said she would return to Bruce with more detail once she had considered her points further.