In just six weeks, abortion could be legalised up to birth in Northern Ireland for babies with an extra finger, club foot, or other surgically rectifiable conditions.
The Conservative Government is currently considering a legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland.
The current proposals go far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland – and the limited changes strictly necessary for the Government to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
Under one of the proposed options, 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, wording that has appeared similarly restrictive (‘that 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’) has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including club foot.
Club foot (also called talipes) is a condition where one or both feet points down and inwards with the sole of the foot facing backwards.
Non-surgical corrective therapy for clubfoot is successful in 98% of patients and complete correction can be achieved in as little as 16 days.
However, research conducted by Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found 157 babies with cleft lip and 205 babies with club foot were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010.
During that time, The Department of Health only recorded 14 cleft lip abortions and didn’t release any figures for club foot abortions, suggesting the number of abortions performed could be over ten times the figure being stated in official documentation each year.
The Government confirmed in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.
Despite this, the Government continues to hide and obscure figures surrounding abortion.
Just last week, the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dineage refused to release statistics on the number of abortions which took place in England and Wales over the last decade following the diagnosis of club foot, hammer toe or tarsal coalition.
The question was asked by pro-life MP Fiona Bruce whose son, Sam, was born with club foot.
Speaking about his condition in 2014, Fiona told MPs: “When mothers and fathers hear the news about a child’s diagnosis with fetal disability, it is important that they are given information about the spectrum and about their options.
“We have seen changes in neonatal intensive care, palliative care, paediatric surgery, educational care and community support. Conditions that might previously have been grounds for abortion are now treatable, and attitudes towards people with disabilities have moved on greatly…
“My son had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life. He wore a calliper in his early years and he had two operations, but now no one would ever know… It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived him of life, and he is far from alone.”
Sam is currently a DPhil (doctorate) candidate at St Cross College, Oxford having attained MPhil (masters) in Political Theory at Oxford in 2016.
In 2011, The Department of Health lost a six-year court battle to keep secret some details on abortion statistics.
Joanna Jepson, who herself was born with a jaw condition, challenged the Government after their refusal to publish in 2003, following outrage to the previous year’s figures which revealed the abortion of a baby at 28 weeks’ gestation simply for having a cleft lip.
Recently, one mother shared how she was devastated when doctors asked if she wanted to terminate her pregnancy at 21 weeks after her unborn son was diagnosed with talipes, also known as club foot as well as kidney problems.
Taylor Barnes refused to have an abortion and gave birth to her son Presley in March last year. Since then he has undergone successful treatment for club foot and kidney problems and his mum is confident it will not hold him back.
Taylor told the Greenock Telegraph: “Steven Gerrard the Rangers manager and Liverpool legend was born with club feet so that has given me hope.
“I’m so proud of Presley and everything he has been through in these first weeks of his life.
“I can’t wait to see my baby boy kick his football and walk through the school gates.”