Abortion (Cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot) Bill receives First Reading

A Bill which 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 has received a First Reading this afternoon. 

The Abortion (Cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot) Bill, which has cross-party support, was presented by Fiona Bruce MP shortly after today’s Prime Minister’s Questions and urgent questions. 

An early day motion supporting the Bill has also been launched by Carla Lockhart MP and she is encouraging MPs to sign the motion to show their support for the Bill. 

Both the Bill and early day motion have the support of a cross-party group of MPs from the UK Parliament’s three largest parties.

The issue of abortion for such minor and correctable conditions is of personal significance to Fiona as her son was born with club foot.

Decades after his club foot was corrected by two operations and a year of physiotherapy, Fiona’s son is now studying for a doctorate at Oxford.

Speaking to The Sun about her son, Fiona said: “Being born with this condition has not held my son back, rather the opposite. It has given him a depth of understanding about the value of every human life.

“Now in his mid-20s, he lives life to the full and no one would ever know, apart from the most experienced clinician in this field. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived my son of life.”

She added: “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 has now been 30 years since Parliament properly reviewed our law on abortion for disability.

“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.

“It’s time our legislation caught up to reflect society’s positive changes in attitudes towards those born with disabilities and medical advances in the intervening years.”

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 easily corrected after birth but stories of women who have been offered abortion following the diagnosis of a cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot on their child have proliferated the media since the Bill was announced.

One such mother is Sophie Caldecott, who was offered abortions throughout her pregnancy after her 20-week scan showed her daughter had clubfoot. 

Sharing her story with the Guardian, Sophie said: “My daughter is now six and you can’t tell that there was anything wrong with her feet or ankles now, thanks to very minor surgery in her first few months and physiotherapy. But when the sonographer discovered the problem, she told my husband and me that we could have our money back for the scans, and implied it was likely we’d want an abortion.”

Sophie was then offered another abortion at her next scan, five weeks later. She commented: “On the one hand, medical professionals were reassuring me that this was a minor birth defect that could be easily corrected, yet on the other, I was being offered an abortion after the usual 24-week cut-off point as though my child had a severe and life-altering disability.”

Lauren Bolt, whose two-year-old daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate, told The Times it was “time legislation caught up to reflect society’s positive change in attitudes towards those born with disabilities, and medical advances”

David Smyth, a lawyer and charity boss who was born with a cleft lip, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s shocking babies can be aborted up to birth [for a cleft lip] – the law must change.” 

Official abortion statistics for England and Wales show that abortions are happening on the grounds that a baby has one of these conditions. According to the Department of Health & Social Care, seventy-five babies with either a cleft lip or cleft palate as their principal condition were aborted between 2011 and 2018. 

However due to underreporting 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 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.

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.”

Cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot did not hold these individuals back

Abortion is available right up to birth for babies prenatally diagnosed with a cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot despite there being no shortage of testimonials on individuals thriving with the correctable conditions.

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.

This week, it was announced a cross-party group of MPs 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.

Below are just some testimonials from individuals who have been diagnosed with cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot and were not held back.

Steven Gerrard – Club Foot

Being born with a club foot didn’t stop Steven Gerrard from becoming a world class footballer.

Regarded as one of English football’s most influential midfielders of the modern era, Steven Gerrard captained both Liverpool Football Club and the England national team.  

During his 17 senior seasons in Liverpool, he appeared in 710 games and scored 186 goals, becoming a fan favourite and club legend in the process.

Last year, 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 club foot and revealed that Steven Gerrard having a club foot was a source of hope.

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.”

Kristi Yamaguchi – Club Foot

Kristi Yamaguchi is an Olympic winning figure skater who did not let her club feet hold her back.

As a young child, Kristi had corrective treatment on her feet and started ice skating, at the age of 6, as a form of corrective treatment.

Kristi’s love of ice skating kept growing and she started competing as a young teenager. In 1986, Kristi won the junior pairs title at the US championships with her partner Rudy Galindo.

Two years later they took home the same honour at the World Junior Championships, and Kristi also won the singles event. The pair came first again at the US Championships in 1989 and 1990.

Kristi then dropped out of pairs to concentrate on singles and was rewarded with her first world championship title in 1991.

One year later she won a gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in France, kickstarting a successful career as a professional figure skater.

Peyton Manning – Cleft Lip

Peyton Manning is a former professional football quarterback who played in the NFL for 18 seasons.

Considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton has won the Super Bowl on two occasions and has won the annual MVP (Most Valuable Player) award five times.

Shortly after beginning his NFL career, Peyton founded his own charity called ‘the Peyback Foundation’. The Peyback Foundation’s mission is to help disadvantaged kids, in the US States of Louisiana, Tennessee and Indiana.

In September 2007, St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis renamed its children’s hospital to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, in recognition of the donations made by Peyton and his wife to the hospital.

Tom Burke – Cleft Lip

Tom Burke has gone on to have a successful career as an actor after being born with a cleft lip that he had corrective surgery on shortly after birth.

The English War & Peace and The Musketeers actor has on a number of occasions supported Operation Smile, which offers corrective surgery for cleft lip and cleft palate around the world.  

Sir Walter Scott – Club Foot

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish historian, poet and playwright who was born with a club foot.  His literary works often broke sales records and remain classics of both English-language literature and Scottish literature to this day.

Although he is primarily remembered for his extensive literary works, such as Waverley, The Lady of the Lake and The Bride of Lammermoor, Sir Walter was a judge and legal administrator by profession.

By the end of the 18th Century, Scotland was one of the most literate countries in Europe.

Dudley Moore – Club Foot

Dudley Stuart John Moore, CBE was an English actor, comedian, composer and musician.

Moore rose to prominence in the UK as a leading figure in the British satire boom of the 1960s and then appeared in films such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arthur and 10.

In 1981 he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his role in Arthur, for which he was also Oscar-nominated.

Sadly, many babies prenatally diagnosed with a cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot aren’t given the same chances and can be aborted – sometimes following pressure from doctors.

This is despite, polling from SavantaComRes showing 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.”