Discretion, Discrimination, and the Death Sentence.

The Royal College of Midwives recently announced their support for a campaign run by abortion provider the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) calling for the legalisation of abortion up to birth for ANY reason. But what many people do not realise is that abortion up to birth is already legal … for some foetuses.

This is sometimes referred to as Ground E abortion. Ground E was a provision in the 1967 Abortion Act to allow for the termination of a foetus after 24 weeks gestation if: ‘there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. But no specific definition of this term is included in the law. It is left to the discretion of clinicians to decide what constitutes ‘serious handicap’. Clinicians who, while they have great experience fo caring for expectant mothers and unborn or newly-born babies, may well not have any real-life experience of ‘disability’. This has led to some doctors concluding that a pre-natal diagnosis on f Down’s Syndrome, or Cleft Palate,  is sufficient grounds to offer the expectant mother a termination beyond the usual 24-week limit. Neither of these conditions causes ‘serious handicap’, and while it cannot be denied that they both present challenges, they are challenges that can be overcome, increasingly so as medicine advances and the value of early medical and educational intervention becomes widely  recognised. Even when surgery is required, neither ‘condition’ usually produces such devastating effects that quality of life is reduced to the point where they would be better off dead! Quality of life is subjective anyway. If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, then I recommend you ask someone living with one of these ‘conditions’ (and yes, they will be able to give you a reasonable answer).

My own personal feelings about abortion are ambivalent. While I would hesitate to remove the right from another woman, whose desperate circumstances I have no knwoledge of, and do not have to live with, I am still deeply uncomfortable with the fact of it. Much is made of ‘a woman’s right to choose’. But what about the unborn chil’s right to life? There is now strong scientific evidence available that demonstrates that not only do unborn babies feel pain, but they feel it more intensely than an adult, or even a newborn; they are also able to feel pain from, at the earliest, 20 weeks gestation, and most probably even earlier. When life-saving intrauterine surgery is performed on a foetus (post 16 weeks gestation), then both mother and baby are given anaesthetic.When a baby is aborted at any stage of pregnancy, it is not given anaesthetic.

The only thing I am certain of in the abortion debate is that the legal threshold for termination should be the same for all foetuses. Unborn disabled children deserve the same protection under the law, the same right to life, as non-disabled unborn children. Anything else is discrimination.

When, in a speech to the House of Lords, Lord Shinkwin announced his intention to promot a bill to outlaw such discriminatory abortions — his Abortion (Disablility Equality) Bill — he is quoted as saying:

‘…For me (Lord Shinkwin), a one-nation society is one that does not discriminate on account of disability — a society in which disability equality is a consistent realitu…. It (his Private Memb?

ers Bill) concerns an area where, unbelievably the diagnosis of disability carries a death sentence … It is illegal for an unborn human being tohave 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? … imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation? … If every child is to have the ‘best start in life’ … disabled children must first be given an equal chance to live.’

I know that there are people out there who would disagree. I wonder, if we changed the terminology around late-term (post 24-weeks) ‘abortion, and called it what it really is — *pre-natal euthanasia* — how many of them would start to see things differently?

*Except that euthanasia is supposed to be painless.*

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