All Party Disability Abortion Law Inquiry Report

You may recall I was asked to give evidence in Westminster at the All Party Disability Abortion Law Inquiry aimed at reviewing an old law that allows abortion 'up to and including during birth' for babies 'at significant risk of serious handicap' (all undefined). Representatives from all the major parties convened and listened to evidence from various groups and individuals.

Much of the discussion centred around support, counselling and advice given to pregnant women at point of diagnosis, my own personal crusade.

Today the report is released. 

I attach below the press release which highlights all the main points. I have to say, I find it all encouraging. It says exactly what we all hoped it would.

Reduce limit for disability abortion to 24 weeks in line with others.
DS is not a 'severe handicap' but a mild to moderate developmental delay.
Provide support, counselling and unbiased facts for parents to make informed choices.

Now we just have to wait for the next step....


Embargoed until 11.00am Wednesday 17th July 2013

End the “discrimination against unborn disabled children”, says Parliamentary Report 

The Government must review the Abortion Act and end the discrimination against unborn disabled children, says a major new Parliamentary Report published today.

The report says that the current legislation is out-dated, allowing abortion for disabled babies up to birth and is in urgent need of reform.

It sets out a raft of recommendations aimed at reforming the rules governing abortion on the grounds of disability and ending the wide disparities in how the Act is applied across the country. 

The report, the work of a cross-party Commission, chaired by Conservative backbench MP Fiona Bruce, says: “ is time to review the moral, ethical, legal and practical framework within which this provision of the Abortion Act operates and how the law applies to a fetus beyond the age of viability...”

“...Parliament should consider at the very least the two main options for removing those elements which a majority of witnesses believe are discriminatory – that is either reducing the upper time limit for abortions on the grounds of disability from birth to make it equal to the upper limit for able bodied babies or repealing Section 1(1)(d) altogether.”

Mrs Bruce commented: “This is an incredibly difficult and emotive issue, which for too long governments of all colours have failed to properly review. In part this is due to the very strong feelings on both side of the debate, usually traduced to an argument between pro-choice and pro-life, as one respondent told the Commission.

Fiona Bruce MP continued: “Given the advances in medical science and the very positive changes in our attitudes towards disabled people since the relevant law was enacted over twenty years ago it is time to review it.”

The Commission received nearly 300 submissions (299) in both oral and written sessions and found “...that there continue to be strongly held and polarised views on how the law treats abortion for babies with disabilities...

“The vast majority of those who gave written evidence believe that allowing abortion up to birth on grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act, and does affect wider public attitudes towards discrimination.”

Members were drawn from both Houses of Parliament and included, its Vice Chair Virendra Sharma MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Down Syndrome, Lord McColl of Dulwich, who served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Major, Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the Autism All Party Parliamentary Group and Chair of the Conservative Human Rights Commission, former TV presenter and Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, Rob Flello MP, the Labour Shadow Justice Minister, crossbench peer and eminent psychiatrist, Baroness Hollins of Wimbledon, Paul Maynard MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled People and former three-time paralympian Baroness Masham.

Controversially, the Commission rejected calls for a list of conditions to be published that would meet the “seriously handicapped” criteria as “such a list would inevitably discriminate, on arbitrary and subjective grounds.”

It heard that pregnancies beyond 24 weeks can only be ended on the basis of a “substantial risk” of the child being “seriously handicapped”.  However, the Commission found that the law does not define either “substantial” or “seriously”.
In 2012, according to Department of Health, there were 2,692 abortions carried out under “Ground E of the Abortion Act 1967,” a 17% increase on the previous year; 160 of these abortions took place after 24 weeks.

The Commission expressed concern that some treatable conditions were still being used to justify abortion on the grounds of disability.

They heard that potential disabilities such as cleft palate and clubfoot continue to be used in a small number of cases under Ground E, although in a majority of these cases it was suggested that there were other genetic factors present.

Professor Joan Morris  confirmed to the Commission that she estimated there had been seven terminations in the last decade for cleft lip only and estimated around five for talipes (club foot), but there were no reliable figures. 

The Committee also heard evidence that Down’s Syndrome accounted for around a quarter (512) of all Ground E abortions and that approximately nine in 10 (90 per cent) of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome were aborted.

Leading disability rights campaigner, Mike Sullivan of Saving Downs, called for the law to be changed as the condition was no longer considered to be “serious handicap”.  

“The law should be amended to exclude Down’s Syndrome as it does “not meet the test of a ‘serious handicap’ since it is a mild to moderate developmental delay” and the decades of experience and research on lives lived with Down’s Syndrome prove beyond a doubt that Down’s Syndrome does not meet that criteria.”

Mrs Bruce concluded: “What quickly became clear is that there are wide discrepancies as to how the current law is being applied. Worryingly we heard evidence that the way parents are supported is widely variable across the country - ranging from the exceptional to the appalling; we heard how parents can find themselves only being given a leaflet on abortion, after being told the shattering news that their unborn baby could be disabled, rather than a support package and information on the specific condition diagnosed. Some parents told us they felt pressured into having an abortion and that they had to find out for themselves from the internet information about the condition diagnosed and any potential support for them should they choose to keep their baby.

We also heard good examples of support and counselling, and one of the most important of our proposals is to recommend that best practice guidelines are developed to ensure parents are provided with practical and balanced information from trained experts as soon as possible after discovery of a fetal disability, so they can make an informed choice.

As one parent told us, summarising what many others reported: “To give a family a diagnosis of a disability and then to immediately follow that up with the advice that they can have a termination without any other information is simply not acceptable in a civilized society.”

I hope our findings will kickstart and inform a much needed debate on this issue.

It can’t be right that nearly 50 years after abortion was legalised, we still discriminate against unborn disabled children, even on conditions that we would not describe as serious.”

The current law permits an abortion to take place up to 40 weeks (or birth) if tests for disability indicate that there is a ‘substantial risk’ that the child might be born ‘seriously handicapped.’ The law does not define these criteria and they are broadly interpreted.
The legal limit for all other abortions is 24 weeks.
In light of the current legal position, the Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability sought evidence from parents, medical practitioners, academia, support groups, disability groups, lawyers and individuals with an interest regarding the current theory, practice and implications of the approach to abortion on the grounds of disability in the UK.

The terms of reference of the Commission were to:
·         Establish and assess the intention behind the law governing abortion on the grounds of disability.
·         Establish how the law works in practice and is interpreted by medical practitioners.
·         Determine the impact of the current law on disabled people and assess the views of       groups representing their interests.
·    Assess the effectiveness of the information and guidance provided to families following the diagnosis of a disability and the impact that has on outcomes.
·      Examine how the law, guidance and support for practitioners and families can be developed going forward.

Committee membership

Fiona Bruce MP (Chair)
Virendra Sharma MP (Vice Chair)
Paul Maynard MP
Baroness Hollins of Wimbledon
Robert Buckland MP
Lord McColl of Dulwich
Stuart Andrew MP
Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham
David Simpson MP
Baroness Masham of Ilton
Rob Flello MP
Dr John Pugh MP
Baroness Knight of Collingtree


  1. Oh my goodness, I simply had NO idea that the law in the UK stated abortion due to 'serious disability' up until BIRTH? WTH? That is not abortion, that's unspeakable. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yes Loren, it's an old '68 law that doesn't get discussed very often. I too was utterly shocked when I researched it all a few months back.
      Hopefully things will change now.


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