John Hayes

Abortions for minor disabilities need to stop

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There is no doubt that the way disability is regarded in Britain has changed for the better. People with disabilities now enjoy legal protections that 25 years ago were absent. Yet for all the progress, there remains a glaring omission: a shameful contradiction in the legal framework that gives life to disability equality. Since 1990, we have differentiated between those diagnosed with disabilities and their non-disabled contemporaries by allowing people with disabilities to be aborted right up to birth, whereas there is a time limit of 24 weeks for the non-disabled.

You might think we would have addressed this by now, given the increasingly positive shared view of disability. Most people rightly recognise that those with disabilities have as much to contribute as those without them. Yet fast-forward a decade from the Equality Act 2010 and the time-limit for abortion remains unchanged. While this different treatment is itself discriminatory, under the Abortion Act 1967 such ‘disabilities’ have been taken to include cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot; conditions that are treatable after birth. Between 2006 and 2010, 157 babies were aborted for cleft lip and palate in England and Wales, and 205 were aborted for club foot, according to Eurocrat data.

What’s more, the situation is now arguably worse than it was a decade ago. Why? Because the government has taken remarkable steps to impose disability-selective abortion – up to birth – in Northern Ireland, following the three-year absence of a working assembly at Stormont. The framework proposed by Westminster far exceeds the legal requirement to implement abortion on the limited grounds of a threat posed to the mother’s physical and mental health, rape, incest, or – in the case of the unborn baby – having a life-limiting disability, meaning they would die either in utero or almost immediately after birth.

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