05 June 2006
ByAppeared in BioNews 361
The Reverend Joanna Jepson has expressed her outrage over new reports that fetuses with minor defects, such as clubbed feet, are being aborted. The Church of England curate has accused doctors of 'encouraging' women to have a termination where there are cosmetic defects which could be easily treated. These accusations come a year after Reverend Jepson attempted to bring criminal charges against doctors who carried out an abortion at 28 weeks because the fetus had a cleft palate.
According to a report in the Sunday Times, figures released from the Office for National Statistics show that from 1996-2004, 20 abortions took place after 20 weeks because of club foot. Naomi Davis a paediatrician who is a club foot specialist at Manchester Children's Hospital has commented that 'it is reasonable to be shocked that abortion is being offered for this. It is entirely treatable. I can only think it is lack of information'. Club foot is one of the UK's most common birth defects with around 700 babies born with the condition each year.
It has also been reported that a further four terminations more than 20 weeks into pregnancy, have been carried out on fetuses with webbed feet and extra digits, both of which could have been corrected with minor surgery. These new reports have fuelled a new debate over 'designer babies' and the need for a parent to have a 'perfect' child. The current time limit for abortion is set at 24 weeks, although legislation allows termination up until birth where a serious handicap is detected in the fetus. However, there is no guidance as to what constitutes 'seriously handicapped'. This has lead to fears that this provision is being used in the wrong way, and therefore used as a valid excuse to abort a 'less than perfect' baby.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who has a family member with club foot, commented on the current situation, saying: 'We know that the legislation on abortion was never designed to offer an opportunity for aborting babies for reasons like this...I know that this condition is capable of being treated after birth'.