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MPs and peers call for abortion reform

19 July 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

THE Abortion Act must be urgently reformed to end discrimination against unborn disabled children, a new parliamentary report says.

A report by a cross-party group of MPs and peers, based on nearly 300 written and oral submissions, was published on Wednesday. It calls for Parliament to consider either "reducing the upper time-limit for abortions on the grounds of disability from birth, to make it equal to the upper time-limit for able-bodied babies", or repealing altogether Section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act, which allows the termination of a pregnancy at any time if there is a significant risk of the baby's being born with serious disabilities.

The report states: "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."

Fiona Bruce MP, who chaired the review, said: "Given the advances in medical science and the very positive changes in our attitudes towards disabled people since the relevant law was enacted over 20 years ago, it is time to review it."

The Commission heard evidence that Down syndrome accounted for about a quarter of all Ground E abortions (defined as a pregnancy with a severe foetal anomaly), and that about 90 per cent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome were aborted.

A spokesman for the campaign group Saving Downs, Mike Sullivan, said that Down Syndrome did not meet the criteria of "seriously handicapped". The law should be amended accordingly, he said.

The Commission's report rejected calls for the publication of a list of conditions that were defined as "seriously handicapped", because it "would inevitably discriminate, on arbitrary and subjective grounds".

Ms Bruce said: "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."

The report recommends that parents receive information from experts as soon as possible after a foetal disability has been discovered.

Abortion Bill passed. The coalition government in Ireland has passed a Bill that clarifies the limited circumstances under which abortion may be carried out in the country, writes Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was won by a large majority - 127 in favour, with 31 against. One of the main problems for the Bill, which emerged during debates, was the inclusion of suicidal ideation as justification for a termination.

The Bill was met with strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. The Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, added his voice to "pro-life" pronouncements condemning the Bill, issuing from the Irish RC Bishops' Conference.

Opponents said that the limited legislation would "open the flood-gates" to abortion on demand, cited the UK position, and urged individual TDs (MPs) to examine their consciences.

From the government's perspective, the Bill clarifies existing laws that prohibit abortion in the Republic with the exception of a very narrow set of circumstances, in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling of more than 20 years ago.

"The Bill is to provide legal clarity, by way of legislation and regulations, of the circumstances where a medical termination is permissible where there is real and substantial risk to the life - as opposed to the health - of a woman as a result of a pregnancy," a government statement said.

The legislation now goes before the Upper House - the Senate - for approval, and must then be signed into law by the President, Michael D. Higgins.

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