Clerks of both Houses have confirmed that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill could potentially open up the entire Abortion Act for possible amendment. MPs may vote on a proposal for overdue change in the rule that allows disabled babies to be aborted as late as 39 weeks - up to birth - but the Daily Mail this morning quotes David Cameron as saying he doesn't believe that change in that aspect of the law is necessary at the moment.
For many this issue is first and foremost about disability, not abortion. Disabled people may wonder why the law considers it morally unacceptable to terminate a "normal" baby after 24 weeks (a limit that is in itself the highest in Europe and one Cameron has recently said he would vote to lower), but not a disabled one. The Disability Rights Commission has previously expressed concerns about these double standards in the Abortion Act:
"It reinforces negative stereotypes of disability and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability, while time limits apply to other grounds set out in the Abortion Act, is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally. In common with a wide range of disability and other organisations, the DRC believes the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally."
The exception that allows late abortions isn't just used for serious disability but a wide range of quite mild forms of disability. You may remember Reverend Joanna Jepson, who shot to prominence in the High Court fight over the late abortion of a baby who, like her, merely had a cleft palate. She issued this statement to ConservativeHome:
"Mr Cameron's refusal to acknowledge the pressing need for a change in the law to prevent the abortion of babies with abnormalities is beyond comprehension. Any country or system that condones the termination of lives on the grounds that they have missing digits, club feet, cleft palates or Downs Syndrome has lost sight of the value of life."
"I find it utterly appalling that two children of the same age and gestation should be treated differently on no other grounds than physical and mental ability."
Nadine Dorries MP said this in a comment on a ToryDiary post this morning:
"Disabilities are detected at various stages of pregnancy, some are incredibly distressing and severe. The decision to abort with such pregnancies is one which needs to take place sensitively between parents, family, doctors and nurses without the interference of politicians or legislation.
Campaigns need to be conducted in order to change hearts and minds with regard to cleft pallet, club foot or hare lip. Abortion, given the advance of medical science and minimal impairment upon the quality of life, should not be acceptable under any condition for such minor disabilities and should be collectively frowned upon by the whole of society."