Cross-party group of MPs bring forward Bill to clarify cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot not grounds for abortion

A cross-party group of MPs from the three largest parties in the UK Parliament have come together to bring forward the Abortion (Cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot) Bill

The Bill would change the law to clarify that cleft palate, cleft lip, cleft palate and lip, and club foot are not grounds for abortion in the UK. This would mean that abortions could not occur when the primary diagnosed condition is cleft palate, cleft lip, cleft palate and lip, and club foot. 

Currently, abortion is allowed up to birth for babies with disabilities. This has been interpreted to include cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot, meaning abortion is legal up to birth based solely on a primary diagnosis of one of these conditions.

All of these conditions can be corrected. The main treatment to correct a cleft lip is an operation, which is usually done when a baby is 3 to 6 months, whereas an operation to repair a cleft palate is usually done at 6 to 12 months. Treatment for clubfoot is minimally invasive and is usually achieved using the Ponseti method.

The Bill is being led by Fiona Bruce MP. The issue is of personal significance to her, as her son was born with club foot.

Official abortion statistics for England and Wales show that abortions are happening on the grounds that a baby has one of these conditions. Due to underreporting these figures are likely significantly higher than what is being reported. 

Seventy-five babies with either a cleft lip or cleft palate as their principal condition were aborted between 2011 and 2018. Sadly, the figures are likely to be much higher, for example a 2013 review by Eurocat showed 157 babies were aborted for cleft lip and palate in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. However, the Department of Health & Social Care (DoHSC) recorded only 14 such abortions.

While the Government are reluctant to release data on club foot terminations, data reported by Eurocat showed that 205 babies with club foot were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010.

There is no shortage of testimonials from individuals who have been diagnosed with cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot and were not held back, including Steven Gerrard, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristi Yamaguchi and Carmit Bachar.

Polling from SavantaComRes shows that only one in three people think it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability. The support for allowing disability-selective abortion for conditions such as club foot, cleft lip and cleft palate is likely even lower.

Right To Life UK has today launched the Stand Up and Smile campaign and is encouraging members of the public to visit the campaign page at www.standupandsmile.org.uk where they can ask their MP to support the Bill.

Fiona Bruce MP, who is leading on the Bill and is MP for Congleton, said:

“The Bill will clarify that cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot are not grounds for abortion. This is a sensible law change that I am inviting all MPs, regardless of where they stand on the wider issue of abortion, to get behind and support. 

It’s now been 30 years since Parliament last properly reviewed our law on abortion for disability in 1990. It’s time our legislation caught up to reflect society’s positive change in attitudes towards those born with disabilities, and medical advances in the intervening years

My older son was born with a club foot. He had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life and had two operations, but now no one would ever know, apart from the most experienced clinician in this field. So I know how such a condition can be corrected. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived my son of life, which, now in his mid-20s, he lives to the full.

Being born with this condition has not held him back – rather the opposite. I think it has given him a depth of understanding about the value of every human life.

I am leading a cross-party group of MPs to bring this Bill forward because every child with one of these conditions deserves the same chance of life as my son. I also want to ensure that no parent has to go through any pressure to abort their baby for what is clearly a correctable condition.

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

“As a society, we should be empowering those with disabilities, and take great pride in the positive contribution they make to our country. To do this, we have a moral obligation to quash anything that perpetuates false and negative stereotypes towards those with a disability, and that is why we support the group of cross-party MPs who have brought forward this important Bill to help end disability-discrimination in the womb. 

People are shocked and horrified when they discover that abortion is permitted up to birth after the diagnosis of cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubfoot as the primary condition, believing it goes against the very fabric of what our country stands for today.   

Our abortion legislation is badly in need of reform to end this unjust discrimination, and we hope this Bill is successful in helping end this disability-discrimination.”

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