Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill has its second reading in the Lord next Friday. I hadn’t heard of it either, and the campaign behind it, ‘We’re All Equal’, had passed me by, until a friend with an interest in disability issues told me about it. The gist is that it would remove the following bits of the 1967 Abortion Act – section 1 (1) (d) and section 5 (2)(d). Which means what? Why, that the most egregious piece of discrimination in law against disabled people would be done away with, viz, that there’s one cutoff point for normal foetuses to be aborted, none at all for disabled ones.
Right now, abortion is legal in Britain until 24 weeks’ gestation. Unless the foetus is disabled. Then you can abort up to birth which is, I’d say, pretty well indistinguishable from infanticide. It happens though. In England and Wales there were 3,213 abortions on the grounds of disability last year, up from 2,290 in 2010. There were 689 abortions for Downs. And 230 foetuses were aborted after 24 weeks. And, most pathetic of all, 11 foetuses were aborted on the basis of cleft lip or palate in 2015… and I don’t really need to point out, do I, that this is a surgically remediable condition? It means you’ve got a terrifically ugly baby for a while, but it’s not worth a death sentence.
It’s the height of bad manners in millennial Britain to take exception to women’s reproductive choices – see the backlash poor Sally Phillips got from women’s groups for her programme taking issue with the new screening programme for Down’s which is nearly 100 per cent accurate, and which, in Iceland, has meant 100 per cent of Down’s foetuses are aborted (the performance by the Guardian’s Hadley Freeman on the Radio 4 Media Show was especially choice on this one). Essentially judging any decision any woman takes when it comes to abortion is a no-no.
Well stuff that. I’m anti abortion anyway, but even for the pro choicers, I can’t even begin to see how you can square equality legislation that bars discrimination on the basis of disability with a two tier time limit for abortions. There isn’t a more egregious kind of discrimination than killing off a foetus up to birth. Granted, if the bill gets through, you’ll still have abortions on the basis of disability – that will happen so long as handicaps are identified during gestation – but it means that it will happen to healthy and handicapped foetuses impartially. You can either be for equality under the law or for the 1967 Act as it stands. One for that recently ennobled champion of civil liberties, Shami Chakrabarti, surely?