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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Abortion Act 'discriminatory'
Abortion remains a hugely controversial subject
A disability rights watchdog set up by the government has labelled a section of the Abortion Act as discriminatory.

The move by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has been hailed as a significant step forward by pro-life campaigners.

I regard this as a considerable victory for us after a long battle

Professor Jack Scarisbrick
But the pro-choice lobby has warned that any attempt to dismantle the act would represent an attack on women's rights.

The DRC was set up last year to advise on how to combat discrimination against the disabled.

It issued a statement on Tuesday questioning a part of the Abortion Act dealing with disability.

Section 1(1)d of the 1967 Abortion Act allows termination of a pregnancy at any time if there is a significant risk of the baby being born seriously disabled.

Under usual circumstances abortion is not permitted after 24 weeks - normally it is carried out much earlier.


The DRC statement said: "The Section is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability, while time limits apply to other grounds set out in the Abortion Act, is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally.

Any attempt to try to dismantle the 1967 Abortion Act is misguided at best and mischievous at worst

Voice for Choice
"In common with a wide range of disability and other organisations, the DRC believes the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally."

The Commission said medical professions and others should ensure that parents receive balanced information and guidance on disability.

It said it intended to pursue these points with Health Secretary Alan Milburn, the medical professions and relevant organisations.

However, it also stressed it not opposed to abortion and was not pressing for any part of the Act to be repealed.

Rather, it was concerned with the information and advice women received from the medical profession. Section 1(1)d of the Act was relevant because it influenced the approach taken by many doctors.

The anti-abortion group Life, which has been pressing the DRC to push for a change in the law, said the statement was a turning point.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of Life, said: "I regard this as a considerable victory for us after a long battle.

"Originally the Commission said the Abortion Act was outside its remit. We want to see that section of the Act deleted and eugenic abortion made unlawful."

Voice for Choice, a group which defends abortion, said: "This isn't about the rights of the disabled. It's an attack on the rights of women to make a choice. "In those countries where that choice is illegal we see that maternal mortality is incredibly high.

"Any attempt to try to dismantle the 1967 Abortion Act is misguided at best and mischievous at worst."

See also:

29 Aug 00 | Health
'Abortion causes foetal pain'
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