Cleft lip abortions to be available up to birth in Northern Ireland, mothers speak out

Mothers whose children were born with a cleft lip and palate have spoken out in horror that the proposed abortion framework that the Conservative Government is contemplating imposing on Northern Ireland will allow babies with the condition to be aborted up to birth.

Cleft lip and palate is a condition which causes a small or wide gap in the roof of the mouth, upper lip or both. It is usually easily fixed by minor surgery. 

Terri Thomas was angry and shocked when she heard that the Conservative Government’s proposed abortion framework would introduce disability-selective terminations for cleft lip and palate, up to birth, in Northern Ireland.

She told Right To Life UK: “To read that some people [in Northern Ireland] may now consider a termination simply because of a cleft lip or palate is so upsetting”.

Terri Thomas’ son, Joseph Daniel, was born with a cleft lip.

Terri said when her son, Joseph Daniel, was diagnosed with the condition she had lots of questions but never considered an abortion.

Following the birth of her son, the mother of two said: “To me he was perfect, his lip didn’t bother me in the slightest, I just felt pure love.”

Terri shared that Joseph is now almost two-years-old and has since had surgery on his lip, which has healed quickly and his scar is barely noticeable.

She added that “he is such a happy, clever and inquisitive little boy! He makes me smile every day.”

Joseph Daniel after surgery on his cleft lip.

Another mother, with a similar experience to Terri, has said she was left feeling distraught and heart-broken when she heard that the proposed change in the law would mean that unborn babies could be aborted just because they had a cleft lip and palate.

Lauren Bolt said her daughter, Lily Grace, was only diagnosed with the condition three weeks before she gave birth to her.

However, even though Lauren didn’t know what a cleft lip and palate was, she wasn’t upset or worried about the condition.

The day her daughter, Lily-Grace, was born she said: “I set eyes on the most precious little girl with a unique cleft lip that looked like a love heart.”

Lily-Grace, 2, has also had corrective surgery on her lip. Lauren said “Lily-Grace is the happiest, most beautiful little girl ever! She has so much character and I completely forget she was ever born with a cleft lip.”

Terri and Lauren both said they received great medical support from medics. The two mothers would encourage pregnant mothers, particularly in Northern Ireland, with children diagnosed with cleft lip and palate to keep their unborn babies and seek that same support.

Lily Grace’s cleft lip is barely noticeable following surgery.
What will change in Northern Ireland?

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland.

332 MPs in Westminister voted through an amendment to force abortion on the province, despite it remaining a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and the fact that every single MP representing Northern Ireland in Westminster voted against the amendment.

Since, then the Conservative Government has proposed a framework for abortion in Northern Ireland which goes far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland – and far beyond what is legally required by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The Government is not required by the Act to introduce abortion for cleft, or other disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, to Northern Ireland. Yet, to the dismay of mothers of cleft lip babies, the Conservatives have opted to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in their extreme proposed framework.

Under one of the proposal options being consulted on, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life” (Section 2.3 – page 17). 

In England and Wales, similar wording has in practice allowed abortions for conditions including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome right through to birth.

Without a clear provision stating otherwise, under the proposed wording in the Conservatives abortion framework it is likely that disability-selective abortion will be available up to birth.

Over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter urging the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to introduce abortion up to birth for babies with the condition in Northern Ireland.

Cleft lip and palate & Down syndrome abortion under-reported

In England and Wales, the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has accelerated in recent years.

Official figures show that the number of terminations for those with the condition has more than tripled, from 4 in 2012 to an all-time high of 15 in 2018.

Since 2011, 75 unborn babies have been aborted because they had a cleft lip and palate.

However, findings from a European register have revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported.

Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies, with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. The Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions.

Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down’s Syndrome was nearly double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.

The discovery suggests that the number of unborn babies being aborted because of a perceived disability is significantly higher than what is being reported.

The Department of Health confirmed in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.

Lord Shinkwin, who himself has a disability, heavily criticised the move citing the impact that it will have on people with disabilities.

Speaking in the House of Lords he said: “I am good enough to sit in your Lordships’ House, but this Bill suggests that someone diagnosed before birth with a disability such as mine in Northern Ireland would only be considered good enough for the incinerator.”

“Because that is the brutal message of this Bill: if you are diagnosed with a disability before birth in Northern Ireland, you will not just be worth less than a non-disabled human being; you will be worthless—you would be better off dead. What a dreadful message for this House to send the people of Northern Ireland, without even having consulted them in advance.”

A spokesperson from Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: 

“As a society we should be empowering those with disabilities, and take pride in the positive contribution they make to our country. The Conservative Government, however, undermine this objective by indicating they plan to introduce abortions solely based on the unborn child being diagnosed with a disability up to birth in Northern Ireland. 

“To ensure that those born with cleft lip, such as Joseph and Lily-Grace, feel valued members of British society, I urge the UK Government to reverse their plans to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in Northern Ireland.”