Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill receives Second Reading

Monthly archive

28th Oct 2016
Public Affairs

Last Friday, 21 October Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill, which seeks to remove disability as a ground for abortion in Great Britain was well-received by the vast majority of speakers, highlighting the discriminatory practice which allows babies to be aborted right up to birth if they have a disability.

In his introductory speech Lord Shinkwin said:

 “By rights I should not be here. I should be dead. Indeed, more than that, according to the eugenic screening programme of our Department of Health, I would be better off dead because of serious handicap, to use the outdated terminology of the Act. I regard my Private Member’s Bill as a modest, reasonable and logical correction of that anomaly in the law to bring it into line with the thrust and spirit of existing disability discrimination and equality legislation.” (Column 2545)

Speaking in support of Lord Shinkwin’s Bill, Baroness Nicholson said:

“One has to think about the major issue that we are looking at with this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, has based his argument on equality and equal opportunity. Everyone who is disabled is just as important and valuable as anyone else. I speak as someone who happens to be profoundly disabled from an in utero problem. I would very much have avoided being discarded before birth if I had had any opportunity to comment on it—but the problem that we are discussing involves making judgments on another potential human being who is not there to make the judgment themselves.”

In addition Baroness Stroud said:

“When I first found that that clause existed in the Abortion Act, I was really surprised. I struggled to understand how a British society that seeks to value ​disabled people in every way and is a world leader on the issue of disability equality could behave so differently in its approach to a disabled baby in the womb, allowing abortion up to birth for disability. For every other situation, it is permitted only up to 24 weeks, unless the life of the mother is at risk.

In some ways even more troubling, however, is that disability, which is a protected characteristic in UK law, should be a basis for abortion at all.”

Two peers - Baroness Hayter, for the Opposition front bench, and Baroness Tonge interpreted the Bill as an attempt to restrict women’s rights, suggesting that this must be resisted.

Sadly, the Minister – Baroness Chisholm’s comments were extremely vague - emphasising the fact that abortion is a matter of conscience and the Government’s neutral stance on such issues.

The Bill has now been remitted to its Committee Stage.

To view speeches last Friday’s debate please click here.