Samuel's struggle for life

 This article was written by Jonathan Bartley, director of the think-tank, Ekklesia. In the context of yesterday's High Court decision in the case of Joanna Jepson it is particularly timely. A curate from Chester has won permission to challenge the refusal of police to prosecute doctors for performing a late abortion. The abortion was carried out when a woman who was more than 24 weeks pregnant, discovered that her baby had a cleft palate. At the centre of the controversy is the law which allows babies to be aborted up to birth, on the grounds that there is a risk of serious disability. The question that the courts will have to face is whether a cleft palate, can be considered "serious". But this is not the real issue. The question that will still beg an answer long after the court cases are over is why, in our age of relative enlightenment and equality, we have enshrined in our law such flagrant discrimination against the disabled. What kind of message, after all, does it send the disabled who are living, when we single them out for abortion right up to the day before they are born? It was almost ten years ago that I first realised that such a law existed, and was so incensed that I persuaded a Member of the House of Lords to introduce a private members bill to challenge such discrimination. The bill didn't get very far, but as it turned out this was not to be my last encounter with this particular law. Two years ago my wife was pregnant. Having had one child, and feeling that we were getting quite good at the whole pregnancy thing, we turned up to our local hospital with our daughter for what we believed was a routine scan. As the scan progressed however, it started to dawn on us that this was going to be far from routine. Within an hour we were sitting in a room, around a table with half a dozen medics of various description as they explained that our child had a hole in the bottom of his spine, and that he would probably never walk. Reeling from the shock, our first reaction was, I am sure like most parents in our situation, to ask what could be done. Surely, with all the advances in modern medicine there was some procedure which could at least repair some of the damage? "Of course, yes" said the doctor. The terrible blackness that had suddenly enveloped us began to fade as we saw light at the end of the tunnel. The doctor continued; "you can have an abortion. Samuel is now one and a half years old, and the time is fast approaching when I will struggle to explain to him why, even before he was born, the odds were so stacked against him.