West Mercia police have opened a new inquiry into the termination of a pregnancy affected by cleft lip and palate. The abortion was carried out after 24 weeks, which is permitted in the UK if there is a risk of serious disability. The planned investigation follows a call for a judicial review from the Reverend Joanna Jepson, who claims that the doctors involved should be prosecuted. She argued that the operation breached abortion law, saying that a cleft palate was not a sufficiently serious handicap to warrant a termination.
The abortion was carried out in Hertfordshire in December 2001. Ms Jepson tried to bring charges against the doctors involved after she learned of the operation from data released by the Office of National Statistics. After the police refused to prosecute, Ms Jepson was granted permission to challenge their decision, by the High Court in December 2003. West Mercia police have now decided to re-open the inquiry ahead of the judicial review, after taking legal advice. Detective Chief Superintendent Ray Groves, leading the investigation, said that it would be carried out 'with due regard to all the parties involved and in the interests of openness and public confidence in the criminal justice system'.
Ms Jepson, the curate of St Michael's Church in Chester, welcomed the police decision to carry out a new inquiry, but said she would press ahead with the judicial review in order to clarify current abortion law. However, pro-choice group Abortion Rights said the law was already clear: 'It was decided by two doctors that the abnormality was severe enough to allow the woman to have an abortion if that's what she wanted', a spokesperson told BBC News Online. The police inquiry should be completed by the end of the summer, while the next hearing in the judicial review is expected to take place at the High Court in London from 24 to 26 May.