Abortion law discriminates against those with disabilities, bishops argue

Jul 8, 2021 by

by Madeleine Davies, Church Times:

On Tuesday, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, together with the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, the Church of England’s lead bishop for health and social care, and the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, issued a statement supporting the challenge.

“The Church of England has consistently argued that the law on abortion is discriminatory on two counts. In the first instance, it permits abortions to be carried out solely on the basis of disability; secondly, it removes the twenty-four-week time limit for abortions in cases of disability. We do not believe that such discrimination, founded on the probability of disability, is justifiable.

“There is something profoundly disturbing in our current contradictory stance which says that people living with disability are valued, respected and cherished, but that disability in and of itself represents a valid ground for abortion.

“It is right that this should be scrutinised by the Courts and we commend Heidi Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson for bringing their challenge to the High Court while continuing to recognise that Parliament has within its powers the ability to end this discriminatory practice.”

A 2013 parliamentary inquiry recommended that Parliament should consider either reducing the upper limit for abortions on the grounds of disability to make it equal to that in place for the able-bodied, or repealing altogether the provision allowing abortion on the grounds of disability up to birth. It heard “a common message that most parents are steered towards abortion and feel that they do not receive adequate information about other options”.

Most of those representing medical bodies and involved in foetal medicine opposed a change, arguing that “the law is right for the small number of difficult cases where parents face a late discovery of their child’s disability and that the law has no impact on wider public attitudes.”

The Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs team was among those who submitted evidence arguing that Ground E was discriminatory.

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