MP bids to outlaw abortions for club foot or cleft palate
ABORTIONS carried out because babies have a club foot or cleft palate could be banned under plans to be put before MPs later this month.
Campaigners claim it is time to specifically rule out any abortions where such abnormalities are given as the principal reason for parents to terminate a pregnancy.
About 20 babies were aborted in the UK between 1996 and 2006 because they were found to have club foot, according to a recent report. A similar number are thought to have been aborted for cleft palate, mostly after 24 weeks.
The matter was brought to prominence in 2001 when Joanna Jepson, a Church of England curate who has a cleft palate, launched a legal challenge after one hospital aborted a baby with the condition at 28 weeks.
The 1967 Abortion Act declares that an abortion may be carried out if the child "would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be serious handicapped". However, there is no definition in the Act to say what a "serious handicap" might be.
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries last week tabled a new amendment to the Act which will be voted on in two weeks' time when MPs once again debate the controversial Embryology Bill which, among other things, seeks to introduce hybrid embryos. Dorries' amendment would insert into the bill a clause specifically ruling out club foot and cleft palate as serious handicaps.
But the bid is opposed by family-planning experts who warn the move could open a legal minefield, raising the question of why other 'abnormalities' are not similarly ruled out.
However, Dorries told Scotland on Sunday: "I don't classify either cleft palate or club foot as serious disabilities when they are easily correctable. We know many of these babies are aborted just before birth. In a sensible world, I don't think anyone would disagree with the idea that these are not serious disabilities. I think most members of the public would say aborting babies for these reasons late in pregnancy is wrong."
Dorries said she did not back the idea of extending a ban on more serious disabilities, such as Down's Syndrome. "In those cases, I still think it is best left to a decision by the mother and the doctor."
Dorries' attempt comes after she failed to persuade MPs last month to lower the abortion limit to 20 weeks. The current limit is set at 24 weeks, although abortions are permitted up to 39 weeks if the child has a "serious" disability. Having failed to win the debate over timing, the focus is now set to turn to the question of which disabilities could be permitted.
Dorries' bid comes as new guidance is about to be drawn up on what exactly constitutes a serious handicap for which an abortion can take place.
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