Bioethicist hits out at ‘discriminatory’ abortion law

An influential bioethicist has said laws which currently allow unborn babies to be aborted on the basis of disability are “incompatible” with the “very basis of a civilised and inclusive society”.

Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research for the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, made his comments in light of Heidi Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson’s upcoming High Court case challenging the law on abortion concerning disability.

In the UK, abortion is permitted up to 24 weeks for most reasons – but is available up to birth for children deemed to have a disability. This has been used to justify abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome and cleft palate.


Writing in The Scotsman, Dr MacKellar argued that the High Court case is based on serious concerns.

He said permitting unrestricted abortion for unborn children with disabilities is an expression of a “blatant discriminatory and ableist attitude in society”.

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“It would be similar to the situation where a female foetus could be aborted, just because of its sex, in a sexist society. Or even that a black foetus could be aborted, just because of its skin colour, because racist values in a society are not being challenged”.

He stressed that “all such abortions would be incompatible with the absolute equality in value and worth of all human beings which is the very basis of a civilised and inclusive society”.


Dr MacKellar also argued that the current law communicates a negative message to those with disabilities, simply “that it would have been preferable had they not been born”.

He added that it was “unacceptable” to say such feelings were “misguided or mistaken” as “the distress is very real”.

Around 92 per cent of those diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted in Great Britain.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, unborn babies believed to have a disability are a step closer to being better protected from abortion after a Bill received backing from MLAs at Stormont.

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, brought by Paul Givan MLA, aims to outlaw abortion on the basis of so-called ‘severe’ disabilities, including conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

The Bill passed its second stage by 48 votes to 12 last month.

Also see:

NI disability abortion Bill takes first step towards becoming law

Down’s syndrome campaigners take UK Govt to High Court over abortion law

UK births of children with Down’s syndrome halved since controversial NIPT test brought in

Mum refused to abort Down’s baby 15 times

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