Pregnant Woman with scan

Discrimination against people with disabilities starts before they are born

3rd Dec 2018 - Rachael Adams

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December). The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the issues that people with disabilities face and to mobilise support for their dignity, rights and well-being.

At CARE we believe that every human being has been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).

This view shapes how we view and treat one another. It also shapes the work we do and the policy areas we work on.

One area that we are particularly concerned about is how our laws on abortion actively discriminate against people with disabilities. Whilst most babies in Great Britain can only be aborted up to 24 weeks it is completely legal to abort a baby right up until birth if it has a disability.

Our law does not adequately protect disabled babies.

Our law has led to 90 per cent of women having an abortion if they know their baby has Down’s syndrome. It has led to mothers feeling pressured into having an abortion if pre-natal tests show the baby will be born with a disability. In 2016 nine terminations were carried out because the baby had cleft lip/palate which is a condition correctable by surgery. From the period 1995-2016 there was found to be a 263 per cent increase in the number of terminations on the grounds of disability after 24 weeks.

The safest place in the UK for a pre-born baby with a disability is Northern Ireland, whose laws currently protect them from this form of discrimination (even though some are looking to remove this vital protection).

Lord Shinkwin, who was born with oesteogeneis imperfecta, has used his position to speak out on disability equality issues.

“Today legal and lethal discrimination on the grounds of disability is allowed up to birth by law. It is illegal for an unborn human being to have their life ended by abortion beyond 24 weeks, but if they have a disability their life can be ended right up to birth by law. Where is the consistency, the justice or the equality in that? If anyone thinks such obvious discrimination is acceptable, I respectfully invite them to imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation. Such discrimination would rightly be regarded as outrageous.

“To be a Member of your Lordships’ House is to be a Peer, an equal. Yet, for as long as this discrimination is allowed by law and remains on the statute book, how can I, as a severely disabled person, reasonably be expected to regard myself as an equal? The recent excellent report on the Equality Act 2010 and disability produced by an ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships’ House shows that this House is equal to the challenge—equal to the noble task of righting this wrong, of advancing disability equality once more, and of building one nation in which disability discrimination is consigned to history. Surely if life chances are to have meaning, if every child is to have the “best start in life”, as the Prime Minister quite rightly wishes, disabled children must first be given an equal chance to live.’ – Lord Shinkwin

CARE’s Chief Executive Nola Leach speaks out:

“Deciding what sort of lives are worth living bring us uncomfortably close to the area of eugenics. When you begin to eliminate a whole group, such as the Down’s community, from society a disconcerting precedent begins to emerge that it’s less acceptable to raise a child with Down’s syndrome.

“There are far too many stories of pregnant mothers who are told that their unborn child has a disability in such a negative manner that they feel pressured into having an abortion out of fear.

“There seems to be an inherent bias against unborn children who are diagnosed in the womb as having a disability; it is completely legal in the UK to abort them right up until birth."

It is time to remove abortion for the grounds of disability from British law.

Action on this is long overdue and it would send a positive and affirming message that all babies are of equal value regardless of disability.

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