More than 100 babies with minor disabilities, such as a cleft palate or club foot, were aborted in just one region of England between 2002 and 2005. According to government figures 54 babies in south- west England with club feet, 37 with cleft palates or lips, and 26 with extra or webbed fingers or toes were terminated.
All of these defects could be corrected with minor surgery. Club feet is one of the commonest birth defects, but it can be corrected without surgery, with splints, plaster casts and boots. However, some parents and doctors still believe that it is a serious birth defect.
The UK’s Abortion Act allows termination at any stage of pregnancy if two doctors agree that there is a “substantial risk” of the child being “serious handicapped”. What constitutes “substantial risk” is left to the doctors’ discretion, and some fear the definition of “handicap” is widening as scanning technology develops.
The data on birth defects were released as a Parliamentary committee considers whether to recommend scrapping a 24-week upper limit for abortions. It is also considering whether a requirement for the written approval of two doctors should be abolished and whether nurses should be permitted to perform early-stage abortions.
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