The Commission set up to consider one particular aspect of the Abortion Act 1967 – the provision that allows abortion on the grounds of disability up to birth – has published its report and it makes for very interesting reading. The Chair of the Commission, Fiona Bruce MP, sent the document by email to those who had responded to the initial consultation.
The report broadly summarises by stating that the vast majority of those who gave written evidence believe that allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, and contrary to the Equality Act.
The report states: ‘The Commission recommends that Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and in particular how the law applies to a fetus beyond the age of viability (currently 24 weeks). Parliament should consider, at the very least, the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory – that is either reducing the upper limit for abortion on the grounds of disability from birth to make it equal to the upper limit for able bodies babies or repealing section 1(1)(d) altogether.’
The report goes on to state that the Commission ‘is concerned at the lack of transparency of decision-making in cases of fetal disability’ and the Commission recommends that, if abortions to birth are to continue, it ‘would like to see post-mortems for all abortions that take place after 24 weeks.’ The Commission further states that it has concerns about potential discrepancies in data reporting and recommends that the Department of Health consider the Commission’s findings as part of the Department’s consideration on publication of abortion statistics.
It is interesting to note that the Commission, in recommending greater transparency, suggests a need for post-mortems on all babies aborted after 24 weeks. This is presumably an attempt to evidence that no abortion is taking place outside the provisions of the Abortion Act. Some may argue this will increase pressure on medical staff but, realistically, it should make no difference at all given that medical staff should already be ensuring no child is aborted beyond the provisions of the Act.
However, it is interesting to note that a ‘common message’ of parents who gave evidence to the Commission was that they are ‘steered towards abortion and feel that they do not receive adequate information about other options, including palliative care after birth and adoption, as well as the reality of living with a child with a disability.’ As a result of this disturbing evidence the Commission has recommended a need for ‘consistent, balanced information, trained counsellors, increasing awareness of palliative care for newborns and comprehensive support for the medical profession whatever the parents’ decision about their pregnancy.’ The Commission also recommends a third signatory to the abortion form to confirm that the family has received the correct information and support to make an informed decision.
These steps are all positive steps from a pro-life perspective but, irrespective of your stance on abortion, there must be real concern at the evidence of ‘steering’ towards abortion by those entrusted with the care of those families considering the procedure. Although the report only covers a specific section of the Abortion Act 1967 and, therefore, a specific group of babies, one must wonder if the lack of the provision of adequate information to families and the ‘steering’ towards abortion is occurring more widely across all abortion groups and not just those where disability is the ‘issue’ or concern.
This review may only cover a small percentage of the overall number of abortions in the UK but it is a small step in the right direction and will save the lives of hundreds of children if the recommendations are enshrined in law. This could well be a significant victory for life….
For those who wish to read the whole report please click, below: