The legal limit for most abortions was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks in 1990 because some babies now survive at 24 weeks.
‘When there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’ there is no legal limit as to when abortion can take place. (Abortion Act 1967)
British abortion law does not specify which disabilities or conditions can or cannot be grounds for abortion after 24 weeks. The decision is left up to the woman and her doctors.
The basic argument about abortion for disability reflects current debate about abortion generally. Those who support the right of a woman to opt for abortion because of a diagnosis of fetal abnormality or disability are often supporters of the right to choose in general:
Many of those who oppose abortion for disability also oppose the rights of women to choose abortion in general:
The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) argues that the Abortion Act is ‘not inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act since the latter is concerned with the rights of living persons. Moreover, the number of terminations made under the [Act] is relatively small, and the DRC has no wish to put in question the Abortion Act as a whole’.
However, the DRC says that the part of the Act concerned with disability ‘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…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.’
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