There was a significant article on LifeSiteNews on Thursday, titled “UK Parliamentary report: Reform Abortion Act to end discrimination against disabled babies.” It was thought-provoking because it took my mind right back to last year’s brilliant Paralympics in London, where the world saw the extraordinary prowess and determination of sportsmen and women with disabilities. In particular, I think of the American Tatyana McFadden, whose inspiring life story I heard on the World Service on Friday night, born with spina bifida and who has so far won 3 bronze, 4 silver and 3 gold medals in track events at the Paralympics. Pro-life agencies pointed out last summer that there was a certain irony in London hosting this international event and giving it excellent coverage in the media, while at the same times the UK’s draconian law allows disabled babies to be aborted up to birth.
Now this embarrassing anomaly has been the subject of a Parliamentary report, carried out by a cross-party Commission, chaired by Tory backbencher Fiona Bruce, who has stated, “It is time to review the moral, ethical, legal and practical framework within which this provision of the Abortion Act operates and how the law applies to a fetus beyond the age of viability.” It seems that equality legislation is operating here; where once it was thought obvious, it is now seen as unfair for babies with disabilities to be discriminated against in comparison to their healthy counterparts, who cannot be aborted beyond 24 weeks.
Those who read my blogs will know that I am against abortion at any stage of development in the womb for all babies, healthy or otherwise. As a post by someone called “Neo”, following a recent Catholic Cravings blog on abortion, puts it: “For me the key was in the realization that [there] are really only two events in a pregnancy, conception and birth, the rest is a (more or less) linear process…” So this report is not so much an occasion for rejoicing as a cause for muted approval that at least some official voices are now concerned for a less punitive response to disability that is detected before birth.
People will rightly point out that almost all babies who are found to have abnormalities will have been tested, detected and aborted by 24 weeks anyway, so this report will make no practical difference to their lives. That is true; but to make a public statement of this kind at all is a positive step, however small. Fiona Bruce states, “The options are to reduce the upper time limit for abortion on disability grounds and to make the upper limit the same as able-bodied unborn babies. That would require repealing section 1(1) (d). Parliament should consider at the very least the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory.”
According to the Department of Health, in 2012 there were 2,692 abortions carried out under “Ground E of the Abortion Act 1967.” 160 of these took place after 24 weeks. It seems that the Commission is concerned that some treatable conditions such as cleft palate and club foot have been used to justify abortion under the Ground E clause. Fiona Bruce hopes that the Commission’s findings will “kick start and inform a much needed debate on this issue.” My hope is that such a debate would raise wider questions. Ms Bruce mentions the “moral and ethical” framework of Ground E. At the very least, a consideration of unfairness towards disabled pre-born babies would again kick start a debate on the morality of abortion itself and bring it to the forefront of Parliament. If it is wrong to abort disabled babies at 40 weeks of pregnancy, why discriminate at any stage? Doesn’t Tatyana McFadden have a right to life? The right to race and to win medals? And the right to bring pride to her adopted country, her family and the world?