An investigative commission within the U.K.'s Parliament has recommended changes to a law that allows for abortion as late as 40 weeks for babies who may be “severely disabled” when born. The UK's Telegraph newspaper reported that, according to the commission chaired by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, the rules for when a pre-born baby may be deemed severely disabled are being applied “haphazardly” and in some cases may be used as a convenient way to end the life of a baby that a mother or couple do not want to deal with. In other cases, the commission reported, parents are being “steered” toward aborting potentially disabled babies without being fully informed about available alternatives to them once a baby is born.
In some examples, reported The Telegraph, use of the rule “has led to fetuses being aborted purely because screening has detected a cleft lip or club foot, conditions which can be dealt with after birth, according to the committee. Under the 1967 Abortion Act, a termination can be carried out up until 24 weeks gestation if two doctors agree that the physical or mental health of the woman or the child would be at risk if the pregnancy were to continue.”
The special policy is supposed to be used in cases — up to 40 weeks into a pregnancy — in which a doctor believes there may be a “substantial risk” that a child will be “seriously” handicapped. According to The Tablet, a weekly U.K. Catholic publication, the number of abortions performed because of a supposed disability in the pre-born child has risen by 14 percent over the past year.
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