Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Current law supports eugenic abortion for disabled people – our letter in today’s Daily Telegraph

I am one of nine joint signatories to a letter in the Daily Telegraph today arguing that the success of the Paralympics should trigger a rethink of Britain’s abortion laws to make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy solely on grounds that a child will be born disabled.

We describe the practice of aborting foetuses on physical grounds as a form of ‘eugenics’ and say that while pregnancies can be terminated even up to 40 weeks on physical grounds in certain circumstances, the moment the child is born a ‘moral volte-face’ is performed and the official approach is ‘full of compassion’.

This we argue is deeply hypocritical and discriminatory.

Abortion is legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in Britain if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s mental or physical health greater than that from having an abortion. But after 24 weeks, an abortion is allowed only if there is substantial risk of ‘serious’ physical or mental abnormality.

The letter is the basis of a long article in the same issue of the paper which is well worth reading.

The full letter (accessible on Telegraph website – you need to scroll down from here) is titled ‘Disability Hypocrisy’ and reads as follows :

Disability Hypocrisy

SIR – A special-needs child in the womb can be aborted at up to 40 weeks. But once he or she is born, we do a moral volte-face and become full of compassion.

The recent Paralympics made this contradiction yet more glaring. The athletes produced such astonishing examples of courage and triumph over disability that we now have to rethink what we mean by ‘disabled’ and ‘able’.

Eugenic abortion is bad medicine. Killing people with disabilities, rather than striving to support and care for them, is contrary to the high principles of medicine.

We should be proud of Britain’s unique programme of children’s hospices and Zoe’s Place baby hospices. These are an example of a positive, civilised response to the challenge of disability.

We encourage Parliament to repeal the discriminatory section of the Abortion Act 1967, which allows eugenic abortion up to birth, and instead to promote research into disabilities which, once diagnosed, currently amount to a prenatal death sentence.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick
National Chairman, Life

Josephine Quintavalle
Director, Comment on Reproductive Ethics

Dr Peter Saunders
Chief Executive, Christian Medical Fellowship

Nola Leach
Chief Executive and Head of Public Affairs, CARE

John Deighan
Parliamentary Officer, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland

Dr Agneta Sutton
Fellow, Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

Andrea Minichiello Williams
Chief Executive, Christian Concern

Peter Elliott
Chairman, Down Syndrome Research Foundation UK

Dominica Roberts
Chairman, ProLife Alliance


The signatories are organisational leaders and include Peter Elliott, a businessman who founded the Down Syndrome Research Foundation UK, after the birth of his son, David, in 1985.

I have recently drawn attention on this blog to the frightening attitudes to disability revealed in responses to a Daily Mail article on abortion of IVF babies for Down’s syndrome.

Between 2002 and 2010 there were 17,983 terminations on the grounds that there was a ‘substantial risk’ that the babies would be ‘seriously handicapped’ — known as Ground E abortions. The overwhelming majority of these were compatible with life outside the womb.

Of the 17,983, a total of 1,189 babies were aborted after 24 weeks, the accepted age of viability, after which there must be such a serious risk for an abortion to be legal if the mother is not in danger.

Figures also showed a total of 66 terminations after 24 weeks were because of problems with the nervous system of the foetus, such as spina bifida.

The abortions included 26 for babies with cleft lips or palates and another 27 with ‘congenital malformations of the ear, eye, face or neck’, which can include problems such as having glaucoma or being born with an ear missing. Of those, one was aborted after 24 weeks, in 2003.

Last year 147 babies were aborted after 24 weeks, a rise of 29 per cent since 2002. Altogether in 2010, 482 babies were aborted for Down's syndrome, including 10 who were over 24 weeks. Over the period 2002-2010 there were altogether 3,968 Down’s syndrome babies aborted.

There were also 128 terminations in 2010 for the nervous disorder spina bifida, including 12 after 24 weeks.

There is no doubt that bringing up a child with special needs involves substantial emotional and financial cost, and yet at the very heart of the Christian gospel is the Lord Jesus Christ who chose to lay down his life to meet our own 'special needs'. The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ died for us 'when we were powerless' (Romans 5:6) and that 'bearing one another's burdens' is at the very heart of Christian morality (Galatians 6:1).

The way we treat the most vulnerable in our society speaks volumes about the kind of society that we are and the current abortion law clearly discriminates against disabled people. It should be revised.

10 comments:

  1. To this mother of a ten year old daughter with Down syndrome this particular irony is very cruel. The underlying message is, "if you make it to birth, we have a world of help and opportunity people like you have never seen in the history of the world. But either your mum had to chose to have you, or you had to escape the trap set by prenatal testing." Now the trap is being reset by all the recent advances such as MaterniT21 which gives a 99% accurate result in the 12th week of pregnancy with only the mother's blood. How will we ever find a treatment for the cognitive delays if all we focus on is "search-and-destroy"?

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  2. Great letter Peter and co. Keep speaking out on this.

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  3. I have a young friend who was born with a cleft lip. He is 20 years old. He is an apprentice tree surgeon. He has been creating beautiful things from wood for half his life. He is a keen mountain-biker, snowboarder & climber. He works out, and is extremely fit & healthy. He sings (beautifully), plays guitar, writes incredible songs, and leads worship in my church. He is bright, funny, warm, compassionate and gifted. Oh, and he's been fighting the girls off with a big stick for years on account of how gorgeous looking he is.
    Yet, if his mother conceived him now, and a scan showed his "deformity", she could well be offered an abortion. I'm not sure if the thought of that makes me want to cry or be sick... probably both.

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  4. Keep up the good work. Am posting on Twitter.

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  5. The trouble is the vast majority of abnormalities are detected well before 24 weeks - my wife was offered her "anomaly scans" at around 18-20 weeks. This means most disabled babies are destroyed *prior* to 24 weeks. So what we are really saying is that abortion on demand (whether for social reasons or disability) is alright upto 24 weeks, but there should be no abortion at all after 24 weeks. A laudable ideal, but I'm not sure our politicians will go for it. We can only hope.

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  6. Is Peter Elliot a christian?

    Unfortunately the fact that most (all?) of your signatories are christians, means that the pro-death lobby will try to discredit you as religious fundamentalists.

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  7. My daughter in seven years old. She had a cleft lip.It has been a rocky road being dumped by family and friends. I have done it on my own.she has my green eyes.My famliy (who raised me catholic) insisted I get an abortion.Why are so many christians such hypocrites!! I know I made the right decision.I was terrified doing this alone. I also have two other children. There is so many cruel people in this world.

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  8. My daughter in seven years old. She had a cleft lip.It has been a rocky road being dumped by family and friends. I have done it on my own.she has my green eyes.My famliy (who raised me catholic) insisted I get an abortion.Why are so many christians such hypocrites!! I know I made the right decision.I was terrified doing this alone. I also have two other children. There is so many cruel people in this world.

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