The inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability is seeking solutions to problems that don’t exist – and ignoring those problems that do
It is customary to welcome Parliamentary inquiries into contentious issues when one has nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
But I don’t welcome the Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability launched by the MP Fiona Bruce, who wants to establish whether the law should be reviewed to consider“medical advances and advances in our attitudes to disability over recent years”. The inquiry will assess the intention of the current law, how it works in practice, and the prospects for developing the law going forward.
The press announcement shows the inquirers' concerns. The current law permits an abortion to take place ‘up to birth’ if tests indicate that the child may be disabled when born, while there is a legal limit of 24 weeks for abortions on other grounds.
It questions if this is discriminatory following the passing of the Equality Act 2010. It is concerned with the impact of the current law on disabled people and their families.
Any proper inquiry into ‘Ground E’ abortions for fetal anomaly should start from a different point.
Normally we assess the provision of clinical care according to its effect on the person who needs it, not how others (unrelated to the putative patient) feel it affects them. So the starting point of any inquiry into the abortion law should be concern for the woman who requires the abortion and this inquiry should start from concern for the woman (and her family) who discover a pregnancy is affected by fetal abnormality.
Were the inquiry to focus on the woman faced with such a diagnosis they would find themselves with a different scope of issues. Among these would be:
- Fear of stigmatisation if she opts for abortion
- Concern about the support services that will be available for her child if she continues the pregnancy
- Shortage of specialist midwives means a lack of emotional support
- Lack of services available in hospital because doctors are afraid to perform later abortions
- Lack of choice of method in how pregnancy can be ended – many women do not want to go through labour
We will all have different views on abortion for fetal abnormality. They are the most controversial of abortions and arguably the most tragic for often they involve wanted, planned-for pregnancies.
But we can trust women to make decisions that are right and responsible. And we can trust doctors to act in ‘good faith’. The last thing doctors, or their patients, need is the scrutiny of an inquiry concerned, not with the care of women – but with the presumed political impact of people’s personal decisions.This article was originally written by our Chief Executive, Ann Furedi, for the Telegraph’s Wonder Women section.