Attempt to end abortion discrimination against disabled babies
1 June 2016
Lord Shinkwin's bill aims to remove the clause permitting abortion for disability from the Abortion Act
A bill has been introduced in the House of Lords which seeks to end the abortion up to birth of disabled babies.
Lord Shinkwin, the Conservative peer, who is himself disabled, introduced a bill on the subject on Wednesday after being drawn 12th in the private members' ballot.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is currently permitted at any stage of pregnancy if two doctors give the opinion that "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped".
"Legal and lethal discrimination"
Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill proposes to strike that condition from the law, so that the UK's abortion law would no longer make any reference to disability.
Introducing his bill, Lord Shinkwin said: "Discrimination on the grounds of disability after birth is outlawed. Yet today legal and lethal discrimination on the grounds of disability is allowed up to birth by law."
A video of Heidi addressing a parliamentary rally went viral, gathering nearly 200,000 views on social media
Don't Screen Us Out
There has been an increased focus in recent years on the way the UK's abortion law discriminates lethally against unborn children with disabilities. In 2013, a cross-party parliamentary commission into abortion on the grounds of disability concluded that there was an urgent need for the government to review the Abortion Act and tackle the discrepancies in the law.
And this year, the Don't Screen Us Out campaign has raised public awareness about the lethal discrimination faced by unborn children with Down's syndrome in particular - as well as the complete lack of support many parents faced with a pre-natal diagnosis can feel. Over 90% of children diagnosed with Down's syndrome in the womb are aborted.
A parliamentary rally organised by Don't Screen Us Out in April also led to a video of one of the speakers going viral. Heidi Crowther, 20, who has Down's syndrome, wowed onlookers with her powerful defence of the value of all human lives.
According to the latest statistics from the Department of Health, there were 3,213 unborn children aborted in England and Wales last year on the grounds of disability.
Lord Shinkwin told peers that "such obvious discrimination ... is outrageous"
In his speech to the House of Lords, Lord Shinkwin linked his bill to the Conservative Party's 'one-nation' slogan, saying that "For me, a one-nation society is one that does not discriminate on account of disability - a society in which disability equality is a consistent reality."
He added: "It is illegal for an unborn human being to have their life ended by abortion beyond 24 weeks, but if they have a disability their life can be ended right up to birth by law. Where is the consistency, the justice or the equality in that?
"If anyone thinks such obvious discrimination is acceptable, I respectfully invite them to imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation. Such discrimination would rightly be regarded as outrageous."
As the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill is a private member's bill, 12th in the ballot and originating in the House of Lords, it is unlikely that it will make it into law. However, it is to be hoped that by raising the issue with parliamentarians, Lord Shinkwin's bill might lead to a greater appreciation of the value of all human life - both disabled and able-bodied, before and after birth.