Down’s syndrome abortions likely to increase after Scottish Govt announce roll-out of new scheme

The number of babies with Down’s syndrome aborted in Scotland is likely to increase following a decision announced by Public Health Scotland to roll-out a nationwide testing scheme for the condition across all NHS hospitals.

Individuals with Down’s syndrome, their friends and families are now deeply concerned that the introduction of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) will result in more babies with the condition being “screened out” across Scotland.

Their concerns are well-founded, as an investigation by the Sunday Times earlier this year revealed that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have already introduced NIPT.

The Department of Health has previously admitted that no assessment was made of the impact that the roll-out of the new tests will have on the lives of people with Down’s syndrome. 

Likewise, Public Health Scotland’s roll-out of NIPT was introduced yesterday without any assessment of the negative consequences it could bring about.

In addition, a Freedom Of Information request revealed there was no opportunity to scrutinise the wide-implementation of NIPT in Scotland as the roll-out went ahead before plans were published by the Scottish Government.

Don’t Screen Us Out, a coalition of disability campaign groups and individuals, are now urgently calling on the Scottish Government to assess the impact that the introduction of the test will have on people in Scotland living with Down’s syndrome.

They also want guidelines to be published on antenatal care for women found to be carrying a baby with Down’s syndrome.

Campaigners warn that, without reforms, NIPT will likely “worsen the culture of informally eugenic anti-disabled discrimination that exists in fetal anomaly screening programmes”.

A history of NIPT in Scotland

Professor Alan Cameron, a member of the UK NSC, introduced the Harmony prenatal blood test (an NIPT) into private practise in Scotland in 2013. The NIPT test was piloted in Tayside in 2014 as part of the UK NIPT RAPID review.

The 2015 UN report from the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a stern warning about the drive to adopt NIPT in national screening programmes stating, “the potential ethical disadvantages of NIPT can be summarised as routinisation and institutionalisation of the choice of not giving birth to an ill or disabled child”.

Subsequently, the Nuffield Council of Bioethics published a 149-page report covering many issues surrounding the use of NIPT in 2017. They also warned: “The UK National Screening Committee should take better consideration of the particular consequences, some of which will be unintended, of prenatal screening programmes where termination of pregnancy is an option.”

In the same year, a report published by Down’s syndrome Scotland revealed “very poor attitudes’ and ‘appalling behaviours’ from professionals after Down’s syndrome was identified prenatally.”

Research commissioned in 2019 by Public Health Scotland, who administer the UK NSC screening programmes, ahead of the rollout of NIPT found that two thirds of those interviewed had no depth of knowledge about Down’s syndrome: “So, even whilst Down’s syndrome was recognised by virtually all respondents, most admitted that their specific knowledge of Down’s syndrome was limited.”

‘Unique value’

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign said: “As a mother of a daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her. That lived experience isn’t a fundamental of the screening programme.

“Disability campaigners have repeatedly called on the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland to carry out an impact assessment of the proposed rollout. Sadly these calls have been ignored.

“Figures released last year realised the fears of the Down’s syndrome community that rolling out these tests would lead to a large drop in the number of babies with Down’s syndrome were not unfounded.

“While we are pleased to see that there have been improvements in the guidance outlining how a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome is communicated to parents, no assessment of the impact of new screening has been carried out by the Scottish Government, so we expect to see a similar increase in abortions for Down’s syndrome when the test is rolled out here in Scotland. Such outcomes are likely to have a profoundly negative impact on the Down’s syndrome community.

“Public Health Scotland’s own research commissioned in 2019 found that two thirds of those interviewed had no depth of knowledge about Down’s syndrome. That should have set alarm bells ringing.

“We are calling on Public Health Scotland and the Scottish Government to undertake an urgent inquiry into the obvious concerns and the impact that these tests are having on birth numbers of babies with Down’s syndrome.

“There is mounting evidence that an unconscious bias exists in the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme. We need the right reforms to turn things around and ensure that the tenets of diversity and inclusivity that we hold dear in Scotland extend to these screening programmes.”

‘Screening out’ babies with Down’s syndrome seen as ‘cash cow’

Earlier this year a spokesperson for a Chinese biotech firm declared “screening out” babies with Down’s syndrome is a “cash cow” funding the growth of the whole business.

The admission came from a spokesperson for BGI Group – a Chinese genetics conglomerate whose main business is offering non-invasive prenatal tests, primarily used to diagnose Down’s syndrome. 

In a segment from an Aljazeera documentary titled Genesis 2.0, the spokesperson gestures towards a digital map of the world and says: “You can see clearly, especially for Down’s syndrome, we have nearly two million samples all over the world. This part is, what we call, BGI’s cash cow, making money to support the growth of the whole group.”

Dismissing a query over potential ethical concerns, she coldly adds: “…with the use of our technology, we could avoid the birth of birth defect, like a Down’s syndrome birth, a Down’s syndrome child, we can screen them out, we can avoid the birth of them.”

Parents under pressure to terminate pregnancies

A recent report revealed that pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision.

One mother, whose child is now three-years-old, said medical professionals told her they could leave her baby with Down’s syndrome to die if it was struggling after birth.

Another mum told how even at 38 weeks pregnant she was being offered an abortion.

Currently, abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot is legal right through to birth in England, Wales and Scotland, and 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome identified in the womb are aborted.

Majority of Malawi MPs reveal intention to defeat extreme abortion Bill

An extreme abortion Bill, which would allow abortion on demand right up to the point of birth, faces a crushing defeat if it is brought forward to Malawi’s National Assembly.

A survey of 141 of Malawi’s 188 MPs, conducted by national newspaper The Nation, found that 80% of lawmakers surveyed (113) will reject The Termination of Pregnancy Bill because “it is legalising killing”.

18% of MPs (26) said they were undecided and needed to consult their local constituents before making a decision. 

Just one male and one female MP revealed they would approve the extreme Bill, which is being pushed by a coalition of international abortion organisations – including Ipas.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Matthews Ngwale, is still expected to introduce the proposed legislation during the Assembly’s current sitting which ends on 23 October.

Despite strong opposition from MPs, he claims “ignorance is fuelling rejection of the Bill”.

‘Life is sacred’

Mwanza West MP Joyce Chitsulo revealed how, far from ignorance, a decision not to abort her baby daughter – who is now a midwife – has helped form her pro-life views. 

She reportedly told The Nation: “I did not abort. I just could not and I am proud of my choice. Of the three children I have, the first is my daughter, born out of that pregnancy. Today, I find my decision even more fulfilling that she is an accomplished midwife herself.” 

She added: “So long as the Bill is to do with abortion, it is a straight ‘No’ vote from me.” 

Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kaluwa said he couldn’t support the Bill as it “authorises killing”.  

Susan Dossi, the MP for Chikawawa West, agrees, stating that “life is sacred”. 

Abortion for any reason, on-demand, up to birth

The Termination of Pregnancy Bill outlines that abortion would be available without a time limit on grounds that “the termination of pregnancy is necessary to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman”.

While this language appears to provide abortion on only narrow grounds, in practice it will likely allow for abortion on demand to be available up to birth in Malawi through a broad interpretation of the term “health”.

Malawi’s Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship expressed ‘grave concern’ when a similarly worded bill was introduced in 2017, stating it “has led other countries to effectively practice abortion on demand”.

The group noted that 98% of the UK’s abortions take place under equally permissive language. However, unlike the UK’s 24-week limit, Malawi’s Termination of Pregnancy Bill has no time limit attached to the clause allowing abortion on mental health grounds and would effectively allow abortion, on-demand, up-to-birth. 

Abortion can be performed on children and teens

The proposed legislation does not include an age limit for abortions meaning that abortions can be performed on children and teenagers. 

No parental consent required

The proposals also include a clause which allows a health service provider to provide an abortion without their parent’s consent if they feel that “that termination of pregnancy is in the best interests of the child.”

The legislation does not mention the introduction of any specific legal safeguards to prevent third-parties from taking children for abortions. This could open up the possibility of an adult who has sexually abused a child to take them for an abortion, to help cover-up their actions.

Five-year-jail sentence for doctors who conscientiously object

The change in law would also introduce a five-year jail sentence for any health professional that conscientiously objects to being involved with providing an abortion and does not want to be complicit in the abortion process by providing a referral onto another health professional who will provide an abortion.

No requirement that a doctor must be involved with abortions prior to 12-weeks

Under the proposed law, abortions can be performed by medical assistants, midwifery technicians, registered nurses, midwives and clinical officers, without a trained doctor present, in case of a complication. 

In England and Wales, abortions can only be performed by a registered medical practitioner (doctor), and the Abortion Act requires the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed. 

Even with this legal restriction in place, there are still many cases of complications during abortions in the UK, resulting in babies being born alive, women’s uteruses being perforated or severe haemorrhaging that has resulted in death

Under the proposed law in Malawi, prior to 12-weeks gestation, there is no requirement that a doctor perform and no requirement for the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.

Babies born alive after abortion to be left to die

In the new legislation, there is no mention of a legal requirement that babies born alive after an abortion are resuscitated or provided with medical assistance.

This is more common than many people think. In 2008, a UK report found that 66 infants were born alive after NHS terminations in one year. The majority of those 66 babies took over an hour to die. 

In Victoria, Australia, where there is a similarly extreme abortion law to that proposed in Malawi, scores of babies were left to die after being removed alive during a number of ‘botched’ terminations, according to one official review

The review reported that in 2011 there were 40 ‘terminations of pregnancy’ after 20 weeks ‘resulting in live birth’. While these figures are comparable in scale, Victoria’s population of 5.5 million is just a tenth of Britain’s.

This shows the scale of this problem in an environment where there are very few legal safeguards around abortion.

Legalised partial-birth abortions

In the proposed framework there is no mention of a legal restriction on the types of abortion methods used to abort babies.

This could allow for the use of particularly gruesome abortion methods such intact dilation and extraction abortions (also knows as partial-birth abortions) and other controversial methods of abortion.

A ‘partial-birth’ abortion involves the feticidal injection of digoxin or potassium chloride at the beginning of the procedure to allow for softening of the fetal bones before the fetus is removed in a breech position. If the baby’s skull is too large to fit through the birth canal, it is crushed to allow the skull to be removed. Decompression of the skull can be accomplished by incision and suction of the contents, or by using forceps.

How international organisations are pushing for abortion law change

International NGOs, such as Ipas, have used a legislation change model in a number of other countries where they have lobbied for a law change, which, in practice, introduces abortion on demand, for any reason. 

This model firstly involves international organisations lobbying Governments to introduce new legislation, as they are currently doing in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, and likely other countries across Africa. They then place themselves as key advisers on the roll-out of the new abortion service, including advising on associated standards and protocols across the country. 

In this position, as a key adviser, they have then been involved with producing comprehensive guidance for governments and healthcare providers, which outlines how they can interpret language in the new legislation to allow for abortion on demand.

For example, this model can be seen in operation in Ghana where the legislation relating to abortion includes what appears to be restrictive grounds for abortion “where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman or injury to her physical or mental health”.

However, Ipas assisted guidance specifically instructs healthcare professionals to take a very broad interpretation of what appears to be similar restrictive wording. This has, in practice, allowed abortion to take place on-demand and for any reason 

The involvement of Ipas in writing Ghana’s abortion guidance has not been hidden or obscured. 

A foreword to the current guidance states: “This document has been put together by a team of national experts with technical assistance from Ipas and WHO, Geneva.”

In Malawi, without a time limit in the proposed legislation, a similarly broad interpretation would allow abortion for any reason, on-demand, up to birth. 

Radical abortion legislation not wanted in Malawi

While there has not been any research on the public opinion around abortion in Malawi, local campaigners revealed to Right To Life UK that the vast majority of Malawian citizens are pro-life.

This mirrors a 2020 Ipsos Synovate poll from Kenya, where there is also currently international pressure to change abortion legislation, which showed just 6% of people think abortion should be permitted.

Therefore, the extreme changes being pushed on abortion legislation in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, and other African countries, by international organisations are likely not to be in line with the views of individuals living in the country. 

However, it is highly probable Ipas and other abortion proponents will continue pushing for a change in law undeterred. 

President likely to oppose Bill

Pro-life campaigners in the country expect the current President, Lazarus Chakwera, to come out in opposition to the Bill.

His son, Nic, has recently written an opinion piece against the Bill stating all humans have a right to life. 

Campaigners are also calling on the Malawi Special Law Commission to condemn the Bill given how extreme the proposed legislation is. 

‘Ideological colonialism’

Pro-life campaigner, Ella Duru told Right To Life UK: “This is a brazen attempt by Western abortion organisations to impose abortion, for any reason, up to birth on Malawi.

“Women in Malawi don’t need abortion to be empowered. Instead, lawmakers should look at proposals which support women such as improved healthcare, good schools and additional skills training.

“To have these well-funded overseas organisations spending lots of money to try and force more extreme abortion laws on Malawi and other African countries, particularly when it is unwanted, is a form of ideological colonialism.

“Cash rich donors from the West continue to exploit their privilege and position to offer abortion which is contrary to the pro-life values held by a large majority of African people.

“Given that these proposals would likely deny unborn babies the right to life right up to the point of birth, these proposals must be defeated by lawmakers if they reach the National Assembly.”

‘Sad sign of the times’

Rev. Dr Zacc Kawalala Chairperson of Ethics, Peace and Justice Commission (EPJC) of Evangelical Association of Malawi told Right To Life UK: “The Bill being put forward, with the help of international abortion organisations would deny unborn babies the right to life. This is the most important right of all so the Bill must be defeated.

“It is a sad sign of the times that ‘development’ now consists of pushing abortion laws on countries that want to protect life at its most vulnerable stage.

“Women don’t need abortion to be empowered. Instead, lawmakers should look at proposals which do support and empower the people of Malawi such as improved healthcare, good schools and additional skills training.”

Mother knits 70 hats for premature babies to thank NHS for safe delivery of daughter born prematurely 70 years ago

A woman has celebrated the 70th birthday of her premature daughter by knitting more than 70 baby hats for the neonatal unit at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, as a way of saying thank you to the NHS.

Mary Sellstrom was 7 months pregnant when, a week before her 18th birthday in 1950, she went into labour. Her daughter, Barbara, was born weighing just 2lb 12oz (1.25kg).

Following her birth, Barbara was immediately taken away and placed in an incubator where she could be monitored by the midwifery team at the former Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary.

Mary shared how she was not allowed to touch or hold Barbara and had to remain in bed for 10 days.

The now 88-year-old said: “My husband was allowed to see the baby once through the window of the incubator room where our daughter lay. He was then asked to leave.”

“There was no touching, no holding, just looking through the window.

“I was heartbroken and longed to hold her.”

Mary revealed how she had to travel to the hospital twice a day by bus, walking nearly two miles to the nearest bus stop, to feed Barbara.

Every day Barbara got stronger. After five weeks Mary was allowed to hold and breastfeed her daughter.

“Holding her for the first time is a feeling I have never forgotten until this day,” Mary revealed.

The little fighter continued to improve and was eventually allowed home weighing 5lb 8oz. In her adult life, Barbara became a nurse, a mother and a grandmother.

Mary said that without the dedication and determination of the midwifery team, her firstborn would never have survived.

As a heart-warming gesture of thanks, Mary has spent her time during the coronavirus lockdown knitting small hats for the premature babies being cared for in the Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

She told the Falkirk Herald: “Someone had said the hospital was desperate for hats for the premature babies and I like to knit.

“During lockdown I wasn’t going out so I decided I’d knit 70 of them as Barbara was turning 70.”

Mary recently went with one of her other daughters, Jacquie, to hand the hats into the hospital.

The mother of four added: “The staff were really pleased to see so many.

“I’m now knitting sleeves for them for the babies to wear when they have a canula in.”

New guidance

The survival rate for extremely premature babies has doubled over the past decade, prompting the creation of new guidance allowing doctors to try to save babies born as early as 22 weeks into a pregnancy.

In 2008 only two out of ten babies born alive at 23 weeks went on to survive. Today it is four out of ten, according to the British Association of Perinatal Medicine.

Once a baby passes 22 weeks, the chances of survival increase week-by-week due to technical advances, better healthcare planning and the increased use of steroids.

The increased survival rates have prompted calls to review the current law in order to help lower abortion numbers and save the lives of babies.

Time for change

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK Catherine Robinson said: “This is something that Parliament should urgently revisit. It has been over a decade since time limits were last debated fully in Parliament in 2008.

“There is a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive before 24 weeks whilst in another room a doctor could perform an abortion which would end the life of a baby at the same age. Surely this contradiction needs to end.

“Independent polling from Savanta ComRes shows that 70% of women in the UK want to see the time limit for abortion reduced to 20 weeks or below. Our current abortion time limit is way out of line with the rest of Europe where the most common abortion time limit is 12 weeks.

“This change in guidance adds further evidence to the need for Parliament to urgently review our current abortion time limit. We support any change in law that would help lower abortion numbers and save the lives of babies in the womb. 

“It’s time that our laws were brought into line with public opinion, modern science and the rest of Europe.”

Thousands attend pro-life demonstration in Germany

Thousands of people from across Germany participated in the annual Berlin March for Life on Saturday, with many more following the events live stream.

Despite the coronavirus, over 3,000 people were permitted to gather in Berlin to call on the country’s politicians to “[protect] the right to life of every person from conception to natural death”.

People carried signs, provided by event organisers Bundesverband Lebensrecht eV [Federal Association of the Law of Life], reading “every person is unique” and “We love life!”.

The former Vice President of Germany’s federal parliament, Johannes Singhammer, thanked all participants in the march “for standing up for the right to life of all people so publicly and visibly”.

Several counter-demonstrations also took place at the same time as the Berlin March for Life.  

In addition, unannounced rallies, involving topless abortion activists, attempted to disrupt the family-friendly pro-life event at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, but they were prevented by police.

Record attendances at pro-life marches before coronavirus

Due to COVID-19, the organisers of annual pro-life marches have had to amend how they run their events, with many running hybrid events with online and in-person audiences.

Earlier this year, more than 40,000 people streamed Ireland’s Rally for Life in addition to 34 local and socially-distanced rallies taking place across the country before the livestream.

Before many parts of the world went into ‘lockdown’ or put safeguards on large events, pro-life demonstrations were seeing record attendance numbers, including in Berlin.

Already this year, a record-breaking 9,000 people attended the March for Life in Chicago, Illinois. A significant proportion of Gibraltar’s population gathered in February to encourage people to vote against introducing abortion to the region in a now postponed referendum.

Last year, the Berlin March for Life was attended by over 8000 participants – a significant increase on the approximately 5,300 people who attended the 2018 demonstration.

Additionally, over 50,000 Slovakians called on the country’s leaders to protect unborn babies. Pro-life demonstrations in Northern Ireland attracted over 20,000 participants, over 11,000 marched for life in the Netherlands, over 5,000 people marched for life in the UK, and over 2,000 people attended New Zealand’s March for Life.