The rules governing abortion of disabled babies are to be reviewed together with a fresh look at what point babies in the womb feel pain.
Under the current law babies can be aborted up to birth if there is a “substantial risk” of “serious handicap”. However, this has been interpreted to include treatable conditions such as a cleft palate or a club foot.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has set up a working group to examine the issue. It will also consider how much pain is felt by a baby in the womb.
One of the world’s leading experts on foetal pain, Professor Sunny Anand, says a baby can feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy or even earlier. Yet, abortion for ‘social reasons’ is permitted in Britain up to 24 weeks.
Speaking to a meeting of MPs in January, Prof. Anand said: “I believe the RCOG [Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] deliberately withheld relevant and scholarly research on this issue.”
News that the RCOG is taking a fresh look at these issues will increase pressure on ministers to reconsider the abortion law.