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Review of impact on abortion law for disabled recommended

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A review into the impact of legislation that allows women to abort disabled babies up to birth was recommended, following the Committee stage of Lord Shinkwin's Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill.

The Committee stage took place in the House of Lords today (27 January), where Lord Shinkwin, who is himself disabled, warned that people with congenital disabilities "are facing extinction".

'Evidence of impact on disabled'

Lord Shinkwin's bill seeks to remove section 1(1)d from the Abortion Act 1967, which permits abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability.

An amendment to the bill was today proposed by Baroness Massey of Darwen. It aims to review the impact of section 1(1)d in the Abortion Act 1967.

Baroness Massey said that her amendment "simply seeks a review of the impact of this act on disabled children, their families and carers, and it talks about support services being appropriate."

She said that under the current Act, there is "no legal definition of substantial risk. There is no legal definition of a serious handicap. An assessment of the seriousness of a foetal abnormality should be considered on a case by case basis.

"My amendment simply seeks rational and objective evidence of impact on disabled children to allow us to discuss such impact in a more analytical and considered way."

'Pretty close to eugenics'

Lord Alton of Liverpool said: "It does strike me that in this 50th anniversary year of the original legislation, which has led to some 8 million abortions, that it would be a good thing if something like the amendment that has been moved by the noble Baroness were attached to the original legislation... It has never been reviewed, which I find staggering when you think that 50 years has passed."

Lord Alton continued by emphasising that allowing babies to be aborted up to birth if they have a disability has led to abortions for "cleft palate, club foot, harelip… and indeed 90% of all babies with Down's syndrome… are now routinely aborted in this country.

"My Lords, this is pretty close to eugenics, and I do think that we need to consider much more deeply the issues that relate to the legislation that governs the amendment that has been brought forward."

'Logical extension to a logical bill'

Lord Shinkwin himself welcomed the amendment, "as a logical extension to a logical bill".

He said: "Anything that supports families and carers both after birth and also, crucially, on diagnosis, before birth, is welcome."

He went on to say that it is important how the review will be conducted.

"It is vital that in keeping with the disability equality spirit of my bill, any review of my bill's impact should not only involve disabled people, [but] in my humble opinion should be led by disabled people.

"What a powerful statement it would make about the importance of disability equality… if the chair of the review was a wheelchair user or indeed anyone suitably qualified who has a disability, and also if a majority of the review panel were themselves also disabled."

'People will congenital disabilities are facing extinction' 

Lord Shinkwin closed the discussion with a powerful statement:

"People with congenital disabilities are facing extinction. If we were animals, perhaps we might qualify for protection as endangered species. But we are only human beings with disabilities, so we don't qualify."

Related Links:
New abortion figures a tragedy
Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill [HL] (Hansard)