Disabled peer accuses Lord Winston of ‘discriminatory eugenic’ abortion agenda

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A disabled peer has accused the renowned fertility expert Lord Winston of trying to hijack his attempts to outlaw disability discrimination in abortion laws because of his “discriminatory eugenic agenda”.

The exchange in the House of Lords on Friday came as peers were debating Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin’s abortion (disability equality) bill, which he says would bring abortion legislation into line with the Equality Act.

The disabled Tory peer’s private member’s bill, which has reached the report stage, would make it illegal to carry out an abortion on the grounds of disability on a fetus that was more than 24 weeks old, unless there was a risk of serious, permanent damage to the mother or her life was at risk.

At present, Lord Shinkwin (pictured during the debate) reminded fellow peers, a fetus can be aborted right up to the moment of birth, if it has a significant impairment or, as the Abortion Act 1967 describes it, “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”.

At a previous stage of the bill, he told fellow peers that “were a younger, unborn version of me to be detected in the womb today [the Abortion Act]and the [Department of Health’s] search-and-destroy approach to screening would make me a prime candidate for abortion”. 

He said on Friday that his “disability rights bill” would bring the law on disability discrimination before birth into line with laws that address disability discrimination after birth.

But Lord [Robert] Winston, the fertility expert and television presenter – who has carried out pioneering work on allowing embryos to be screened for genetic diseases before being used for in vitro fertilisation – tabled an amendment that would exclude pregnancies where there was “a high probability that the fetus will die at, during, or shortly after delivery due to serious fetal anomaly”.

The Labour peer, who later withdrew his amendment, said: “Whether we like it or not, whatever our religious position might be, the fact is that we accept termination of pregnancy and I believe that most people in our society have the normative consideration that it is reasonable, in cases where a fetus is severely damaged and unlikely to survive or is going to be extremely ill and in great pain, to terminate that pregnancy.”

But Lord Shinkwin said that Lord Winston’s amendment was “cynical” and “reinforces discrimination because it singles out even more acutely a particular group for destruction on grounds of disability”.

He said that defining “fatal or life-limiting involves a degree of subjective judgment which is influenced by understandings and by the availability of technology, both of which can change with time”. 

Lord Shinkwin also criticised the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, and Antenatal Results and Choices – previously known as Support Around Termination For Abnormality – which had organised a meeting about his bill in the Lords, but failed to invite him.

He said the organisations had “insinuated and implicitly claimed” in their invitation to the meeting that the 230 disabled babies aborted after 24 weeks in 2015 had all been diagnosed with severe or fatal fetal abnormalities, when they could not possibly have known that because the Department of Health does not hold that information.

He had previously told fellow peers that there had been a 56 per cent increase in the number of terminations on grounds of disability after 24 weeks between 2010 and 2015, and a 68 per cent increase in the total number of terminations on the grounds of disability, with 3,213 in 2015.

He pointed out on Friday that, of the fetuses “aborted for the crime of having Down’s syndrome, for example, two were aborted at 25 weeks, one at 26 weeks, one at 28, one at 30, another at 31, three at 32 weeks, two at 33, two at 34 – and one at 39 weeks”.

Lord Shinkwin said the three organisations had an “overtly discriminatory agenda”, which he said also informed Lord Winston’s amendment and his “complete failure even to make contact with me”.

He said the amendment was “completely inappropriate and incompatible with the progress achieved on disability rights”, and he accused Lord Winston of “crass insensitivity” for “hijacking” the disability equality bill of a disabled peer “in order to advance a blatantly discriminatory eugenic agenda”.

Lord Shinkwin said the message of his opponents was “stark and bleak”, and was: “Let’s ignore the fact that these disabled babies are human beings, with an equal right to exist.

“Let’s reclassify them and call them fetal anomalies. Let’s go one better and call them serious fetal anomalies.”

He added: “Well this fetal anomaly, this proud member of your Lordships’ house, is ​having none of it.

“I utterly reject this medical mindset that clings to the idea that a disabled baby is a medical failure to be eradicated through abortion. I beg no one for my equality.

“I know I have as much right as anyone to be alive.”

Lord Winston denied that his amendment was “cynical” and insisted that it was “compassionate”.

He said: “Perhaps unlike the noble Lord who has promoted this bill, I have been in constant contact with pregnant women who have had to go through these difficult decisions throughout their pregnancy throughout my professional life.”

He said that many women did not attend an antenatal clinic until after 24 weeks into their pregnancy.

He added: “I do not feel prepared to have the finger pointed at me saying that I am not trying to do my best, in a small way, for a society where disabilities occur.”

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  • PageMonster

    Winston is wrong to think only religious people oppose eugenics. You’d think his heritage would make him think twice about it. Some “socialist” HE is!

  • Maybe this idiot would be better off spending his time trying to get the government not to try to force young disabled people into old people’s homes where they cannot live a dignified life, receive the level of care they require or have any access to their families or the outside world rather than insisting more of us must be born at all costs.
    See this article by Lucy Watts: http://www.musculardystrophyuk.org/blog/147828/

    • Sarah D Grimshaw

      I’m sure he could do both, why don’t you write to him? Are you saying you wish you had not been born? I have a cousin with quite a few disabilities, and with the support of his family and community he leads a wonderful life :-). (I know several other people with disabilities from church and the local area, but not well enough to say comprehensively what difficulties they have to overcome to live a good life) If some people with disabilities are not being valued enough in society to the extent that they are being put into old peoples homes, surely repealing a law which is discriminating against disabled people can only increase the level of respect in law and society, and thus help indirectly?

  • Otto von Bismarck

    ‘Whether we like it or not, whatever our religious position might be, the fact is that we accept termination of pregnancy’

    Religion has nothing to do with it. I’ve been an atheist my entire life and have always been against abortion. There are many like me too. Bizarrely I find myself agreeing with the Catholic Church for once that life begins at conception-seems to me the most logical position anyway.

    I fully support Lord Shinkwin’s bill and the fact we allow termination of pregnancy based on disability is something I’ve always found to be distasteful.

    • goldenmug

      On what grounds would you allow abortion, then? The Catholic Church does not even condone abortion when the life of the mother is threatened.

      • Otto von Bismarck

        The opinions of the Catholic Church rarely interest me.

        I’d happily condone it if the mother’s life is genuinely threatened and as long as there is sufficient oversight to ensure that is clearly the case. This is what happened in the UK before 1967, and if I remember rightly required the opinion of two doctors. Seems to me this is a very minor issue anyway; the only figures I can find are from the US which state less than 1% of US abortions are carried out due to the mother’s life being at risk. Indeed a former Surgeon General of the US is quoted as saying he’d not seen a single case of it throughout his entire medical career.

        What I’m against is abortion as a convenience, and in this day and age when contraception is cheap, effective and widespread there is simply no excuse for our sky-high abortion rates. Going by ONS figures there were in 2016 around 700,000 live births in the UK verses 186,000 abortions (almost 40% of them repeat procedures). Something has gone badly wrong.

        • goldenmug

          I think we would disagree profoundly about abortion – I think that treating a fertilised egg as a person is – I’m trying to find a word that does not sound rude, – a reductio ad absurdum.

          However, I agree with you completely that in this day and age there are very few excuses for using abortion as a form of contraception. Here I think that we come back to the Catholic Church and to American Evangelicals. And the Catholic Church does not even have the excuse of ignorance and lack of logical reasoning.

          I still remember a piece I heard back in the early 90s reporting from a newly independent Poland. The reporter said that abortion demand was high in Poland, because of lack of use of contraception. This lack was because (a) nice girls don’t use that sort of thing (the old condoms are for prostitutes line) (b) you’d have to keep buying them – if you could find any – and, especially in villages, everyone would know and (c) abortion and contraception were both sins, but with abortion if you unlucky it would only be once or twice a year whereas taking the pill was a sin every night.

          I think things have improved since then in Poland. So now we have to try to address proper sex education for youngsters – and early. There was report the other day of a girl of 11 who is about to become a mother. We can’t afford to listen to those who think basic sex ed is taking away the innocence of children.

          • Otto von Bismarck

            British law allows abortion to be carried out up to 24 weeks, yet there are numerous cases of premature births at 21 weeks where the baby has survived to live a healthy adult life. You may think it absurd to label a fetus as human but only because it makes it easier to justify killing it. This is the oldest trick in the book.

            I had no idea about Communist Poland (hope you don’t mind me asking but are you Polish & were you unlucky enough to live through the communist era?). I’ll have to take your word for it but I assumed the country was like most of the Eastern Bloc in that sex education and sexual liberalisation was vigorously pursued as a way of undermining both religion and the family unit (which they saw as competing with the state for an individual’s loyalty). I remember reading at one point that the number of abortions actually outnumbered the number of live births by the final years of the USSR.

            I do not think sex education will achieve those things, indeed the evidence in western countries is that it has had completely the opposite effect. Abortion rates, particularly among teenagers, as well as related problems like rates of STDs have sky-rocketed since sex education was introduced.

  • Terry Mushroom

    An interesting example of Animal Farm’s “All of us are equal but some are more equal than others.”

  • JULIA Rees

    I think its up to the woman whether she has an abortion or not. If you decide on a termination do it as early as possible.whether the fetus is healthy or going to be disabled there is no excuse for not doing asap