Today, anti-choice MP Fiona Bruce launched a report entitled ‘Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability’. This is an unofficial inquiry, not sanctioned by Parliament, but rather the outcome of a special interest group of anti-choice MPs getting together to discuss abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality. Although evidence was accepted from a range of individuals and organisations (including Brook and fpa) that which is presented in the report, and the final recommendations, are heavily weighted towards those who would like to see the legal right to terminate a pregnancy due to serious fetal abnormality removed completely.
A quick glance at the list of written submissions tells you a great deal about the inherent bias in this inquiry. The majority are from ‘pro-life’ organisations which believe that abortion should be illegal in every circumstance - SPUC, Life, ProLife Alliance, No Less Human (which is actually SPUC, but hey, have two submissions guys!), Image and Pregnancy Helpline, Christian Medical Fellowship, and the list goes on. Throughout the report, submissions from individuals with no professional background, and from anti-abortion lobby groups are given greater emphasis than medical experts and respected bodies such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nurses and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The report uses this biased presentation of evidence to argue that “allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory” and recommends that Parliament considers reducing the time limit for abortion on the grounds of disability or repealing this ground completely.
There is a suggestion that the current law, which allows for abortion after 24 weeks where there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would have serious physical or mental abnormalities, is "contrary to the Equality Act 2010". This is nonsense. The law does not consider a fetus to be a legal person until birth, so the Equality Act does not apply. The further ‘evidence’ is mostly a mixture of:
• Dodgy statistics - anti-abortion campaigner Patricia Casey is quoted as saying that "at the time of abortion 40% of women will be experiencing mental health symptoms" and links abortion for fetal abnormality to depression and post traumatic stress disorder with no reference given for this claim.
• Emotive, inappropriate language – phrases like “not allowing doctors to deliberately kill any baby after viability” pepper the report and are a sign that the focus is not on professional medical analysis of the complex facets of abortion law and practice.
• Anti-abortion bias – this is not surprising in a report formed by groups and individuals opposed to abortion in every circumstance. Life’s written evidence that abortion for fetal abnormality "overlooks the fact that the unborn child is as much the doctor’s patient as is the mother" is included alongside personal testimonies from parents who claim they were pressurised into having an abortion, and received little support from medical professionals with their decision to continue the pregnancy. The fact that one of these parents, Lynn Murray, has been a member of SPUC for over 18 years, is not declared. Many of the members of the Commission have a history of anti-abortion campaigning – one example is Lord McColl, a patron of the Centre for Bioethics and Public Policy which runs Abort67 in the UK, who you might know as the group which holds up gory posters of supposed aborted fetuses outside abortion clinics. Hmm.
So we’ve established that this is essentially the position of a minority group of anti-choice MPs and campaigning bodies, which does very little to present the views of the experts who work in this field with the necessary authority that they deserve. However, it’s already being reported as if it were a neutral cross-party inquiry with the backing of the BMA. It’s important that:
• This is not regarded as an official parliamentary inquiry, which accurately reflects the views of a range of bodies involved in reproductive care, disability campaigning and fetal medicine.
• It is not used as evidence that the right to abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality is ‘discriminatory’ or causes discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities. There are some excellent blogs on this subject which you might want to have a look at for more discussion of this (Frances Ryan in The Guardian, and Nicky Clark’s blog are good places to start).
• The real people making decisions about often much wanted pregnancies are not forgotten in this. Abortions performed after 24 weeks are extremely rare (they made up less than 0.1% of all abortions last year) and are a result of considered choices regarding health, quality of life, existing children and many other factors. One parent in the report says: “Please understand that finding out that your unborn baby has a serious disability is one of the hardest things that a parent can hear. Please don’t make it any harder by taking away our right to choose”.
• Those who do choose abortion, and the doctors who support them are not demonised. Underlying this report is an implication that doctors are pressurising women into choosing abortion where there is a diagnosis of abnormality. We believe it is important to trust women making these tough decisions, and to trust doctors to give the information and support they require to make an informed choice. The wonderful Antenatal Results and Choices exists to provide further support to those individuals and couples faced with making such decisions.
For further information on this inquiry and the backgrounds of those involved, have a look at this blog from the Ministry of Truth.