It has been confirmed that a Bill introduced by a severely disabled Peer to end disability-selective abortion will now proceed onto Report Stage in the House of Lords on Friday 24 February.
If successful, the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill will remove section 1(1)(d) from the 1967 Abortion Act, which allows for abortion on the grounds of disability up-to-birth. In the UK, disability-selective abortions are currently available right up to the moment of birth whereas in most cases, ‘healthy’ babies cannot be aborted beyond 24 weeks.
The net effect of this Bill would be that the 24-week time limit would apply to all babies regardless of disability, as a woman would still be able to obtain an abortion on other grounds detailed in the 1967 Act.
2015 marked the highest year on record for disability selective-abortions, with 3,213 being carried out in England and Wales – representing a 68% increase in the last 10 years.
Disability-selective abortion numbers have seen a sharp increase in recent years. There were 230 late term disability-selective abortions (between 24 weeks and birth) in 2015 – a 271% increase since 1995. In 2014 the number of terminations for Down’s syndrome increased by more than 10% in the space of just 12 months as new screening techniques became available privately. Whilst abortions for cleft lip/palate, a minor facial impairment, have tripled in the last 5 years.
A 2014 Department of Health review identified that there is significant underreporting of disability-selective abortions and the numbers are likely to be much higher.
Lord Shinkwin’s Bill is backed by the We’re All Equal campaign, which includes disabled people, their families and supporters. The group wants the Prime Minister to commit now to making time for the Bill to complete its Lords stages so it can be voted on by MPs in the Commons. They are encouraging people to visit their website (www.allequal.org.uk) to write to their MP.