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House of Lords written question – answered on 13th May 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is their policy to promote the equal status and rights of people with disabilities including the right to life; and

Whether an abortion is usually offered to a woman who is carrying a disabled child; and, if so, whether this is consistent with a policy of equal rights for disabled people; and

What advice is given to women expecting a disabled baby.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

It is the Government's policy to promote the equal rights of disabled people. Equality, fair treatment and social inclusion lie at the heart of the Government's plans to modernise public services. The NHS Plan recognises that we live in a diverse society and sets out as core principles that the NHS will shape its services around the needs of the patient; be responsive to the needs of different groups and individuals within society; and challenge discrimination on the grounds of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexuality.

Shifting the Balance of Power within the NHS entails supporting front-line staff to better respond to the needs of all sections of the community and delivering more responsive high quality services to all. Rebo

The Human Rights Act 1998 brings the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic legislation. Article 2 of that convention protects the right to life and makes no distinction between people who do or do not have disabilities. The Government consider that the 1967 Abortion Act, as amended, to be in compliance with Article 2 and the Human Rights Act. Under English law a foetus is not recognised as being a separate person from its mother, and does not have legal rights.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' guideline Termination of Pregnancy for fetal abnormality (1996) indicates the importance of offering parents information about all of the options available to them. This should include the implications of continuing the pregnancy as well as the implications of termination. The guideline states that if an abnormality has been detected and two medical practitioners are of the opinion that there are grounds for a termination under the Abortion Act, the woman should be advised that she has this option. The guideline also states that the woman needs to be given enough information and time to help her understand the nature of the foetal abnormality and the probable outcome of the pregnancy in order that she can make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy.

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