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Curate loses legal challenge over late abortion

21 March 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 300

A Church of England curate has failed in her attempt to bring criminal charges against two doctors who terminated 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 Reverend Joanna Jepson sought a judicial review of the decision by police to take no action over the treatment. She argued that the operation breached abortion law, because a cleft palate was not a sufficiently serious handicap to warrant a termination. However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said last week that it was satisfied that the doctors had acted in good faith, and there would be no prosecution.

The abortion was carried out in Hertfordshire in December 2001, when the patient was 28 weeks pregnant. 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. The police then opened their own inquiry into the case, ahead of the judicial review.

Jim England, Crown prosecutor for West Mercia said: 'This complaint has been investigated most thoroughly by the police and the CPS has considered a great deal of evidence before reaching its decision'. He went on to say that both doctors concluded that there was a substantial risk of abnormalities that would amount to the child being seriously handicapped, and that the evidence showed they formed this opinion 'in good faith'. Ms Jepson did not comment on the decision, but a diocesan spokesman said it was not unexpected.

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) is reported to be seeking legal advice on challenging the decision under the Human Rights Act. Julia Millington, director of the Pro-Life Alliance (which SPUC is part of) said that the termination 'typifies current attitudes to pre-natal disability whether in the test-tube or the womb'. However, Anne Quesney, of pro-choice group Abortion Rights, welcomed the CPS's decision, saying it was clear that there was a case of severe disability and the doctors were acting legally. She added that 'it's never helpful, neither for women or for doctors, that these issues get dragged into the political arena'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Curate loses legal challenge over cleft-palate abortion
The Times |  17 March 2005
No charges in late abortion case
BBC News Online |  16 March 2005
Vicar loses court battle to prosecute doctors over abortions
The Daily Telegraph |  17 March 2005
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