UK opens inquiry into abortion of disabled children

Xavier Symons
22 Feb 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The UK parliament has begun a controversial new inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability. The inquiry aims to discover the impact of abortion on the disabled and whether this constitutes discrimination. The enquiry will run until the end of next month and is being co-ordinated by a 12-member bipartisan committee chaired by Fiona Bruce MP.

Under British law, an abortion can take place up to birth (40 weeks) if tests indicate that a child may be "severely disabled" when born. The term "severely disabled" has been liberally interpreted by many doctors, to the extent that minor defects such as a cleft palate or club foot have become sufficient grounds for an abortion.

But the spark for the inquiry was reports of sex-selective abortion in Britain. Ms Bruce's early-day motion says that MPs should be "appalled that there now appears to be evidence of significant numbers of baby girls being aborted illegally in the UK simply because of their gender" and calls for "immediate and effective enforcement of the law in this area".

The enquiry has generated mixed reactions. Writing in Oxford's Practical Ethics blog, Charles Foster was happy to see that "[these questions] are finally being faced". But the head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Ann Furedi, said that the inquiry had the wrong focus: "the current enquiry is concerned with the impact of the current law on disabled people and their families...[but] this inquiry should start from concern for the woman (and her family) who discover a pregnancy is affected by fetal abnormality."