It is fundamentally wrong that, today, cleft lip and club foot can carry a death sentence.
The House of Lords has never been afraid to lead on controversial attempts to change the law; and the Private Members Bill introduced by Lord Kevin Shinkwin to end abortion up until birth for disabled babies fits well into that noble tradition.
It is truly shocking that right up until the moment of birth a disabled child can be killed in the womb for the most minor conditions, including cleft palate and club foot whereas healthy babies are subject to a general 24-week upper limit for abortions. What is worse, is that most people, including Members of both Houses of Parliament, are not actually aware of this blatant discrimination that is being practised against the disabled,
If Lord Shinkwin’s heroic efforts do no more than highlight and focus concern on this disgraceful situation he will have earned our gratitude. But there is a real chance that if we all get behind Lord Shinkwin’s campaign we might yet put right our laws in this regard and remove this shameful stain from our nation’s Statute Book. Put simply, the very fact that the fact that a child being disabled is a grounds for its death is a repugnant concept. It was that mentality which led to the extermination of the mentally and physically disabled in Nazi Germany, a precursor to the slaughter of six million Jews in the gas chambers on the grounds that they were “inferior”.
This is one subject upon which it is not only those of the Abrahamic Faith traditions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), but also those coming to the issue from a secular, human rights perspective, who can find common cause. The Disability Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) described this provision in the Abortion Act to allow the destruction of the disabled as: “offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability … incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally.”
It is wholly inconsistent for Parliament to have passed two excellent pieces of legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010, which expressly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability after birth; whilst it allows to remain the law in England, Scotland and Wales, that before birth there is in practice no protection whatsoever for the unborn disabled. (The Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland due to the cross-party opposition to its provisions).
The Abortion Act provides that abortions may be provided up until birth if “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.” But we know doctors today are performing these abortions for cases where the condition can be corrected by minor surgery, like cleft lip, or when the child could go on to live a happy life, bringing joy to their families and friends such as in the case of Down’s Syndrome.
Indeed, through prenatal tests recently developed, a nationwide screening programme will soon be in place as local health service organisations promote the test to hunt down babies with Down’s Syndrome so that they can be killed before birth, thus saving other costs to the NHS and social care providers. This is an horrendous prospect.
Last year there were over 3,000 abortions performed in England and Wales because the child was disabled, nearly 700 of them for Downs Syndrome and 11 of them for cleft lip/palate. And these are just the official statistics, several investigations have concluded that abortion for disability is under-reported by those completing the Abortion Notification Forms.
In a year which witnessed our nation celebrating the fantastic performance of Team GB at the Paralympic Games in Rio, it’s truly shocking that our laws and our medical practices are sending out the depressing and offensive message that the lives of such disabled people are of less value than those of their able bodied counterparts and those not living with some adverse mental conditions. Put frankly, most Members of Parliament and most abortionists wouldn’t be able to match the training regimes of our Paralympic athletes. So by their own logic, are their lives of less worth? Should it be permissible to kill them as people who underperform? Where does this logic take our society?
But, as usual, this column challenges its readers not simply to welcome Lord Shinkwin’s campaign to champion the rights of those living with disabilities. It also challenges them to take action to support this vital initiative.
There is a great new online and social media campaign we can back. Just go to www.allequal.org.uk to find out more, or on Twitter @allequal. A few clicks on the web site and we can all promote positive messages through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to support the campaign. For those more adept with a pair of scissors, snail mail and a quill pen, we can write to our local Member of the House of Commons, enclosing a copy of this article, and asking why they are not acting, now, to do more to protect the disabled from this modern holocaust of discrimination. For further briefing on the reality of abortion for handicap, you can visit the web site of the leading political campaigning group, Right To Life at www.righttolife.org.uk.
As we fight the parallel battle in Parliament against a huge campaign to legalise assisted dying and euthanasia after birth, we could recall the remarks attributed to Pastor Niemöller about the Nazi atrocities and the failure of right-thinking Germans to speak out: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Much of the funding for the day-in, day-out work of our pro-life Parliamentarians come from the Right To Life Charitable Trust, so, if you feel you can do nothing else, please make a generous donation through their website.
Do we really want a society where the disabled are killed for their disability? Well, that is precisely the kind of society we have allowed to develop, and it is incumbent upon us all, not just Lord Kevin Shinkwin with his own serious medical conditions, to speak, loudly and clearly, into the ears of our political representatives. This blatant discrimination must be ended.
This article was first published in The Catholic Universe of 18th November 2016.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).