Abortion is a highly sensitive area of public policy on which there are a range of strongly held views. I have always been ethically of the view that abortions should be avoided wherever possible, but that there are certain circumstances under which they may be medically necessary.
In 1990, Parliament voted to amend the Abortion Act 1967 to permit termination of pregnancy where two medical practitioners form the same opinion in good faith that "there is there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped." These are known as ground E abortions and can be performed at any gestation in the pregnancy.
Not every pregnancy goes to plan and foetal abnormalities of varying degrees of severity occur. Parents need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. I recognise that these decisions are extremely difficult and painful for them. Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgemental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.
Lord Shinkwin's Bill would have the effect that abortions for foetal abnormality could no longer be performed. Women with a pregnancy where a foetal abnormality is diagnosed could still seek a termination for another reason within the law, but only if they were less than 24 weeks pregnant. The only exception to that would be if the termination were deemed necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the health of the mother.
I have some sympathy with the bill. Many very happy children with Down’s Syndrome, for example, might well not be with us today under the terms of the current legislation. So I do sympathise with Lord Shinkwin’s desire to make terminations of this kind less likely. I am also aware that concerns have been expressed that abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality is discriminatory and does not comply with obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
For both of these reasons I intend to consider the content of the Bill very carefully and listen to opinion from my constituents and others before finally deciding whether or not to give the Bill my support.