Law, reproduction, and disability: Fatally 'handicapped'?

  • McGuinness S
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Although it provides the grounds for a numerically very small proportion of abortions performed in Great Britain each year, s.1(1)(d), the disability ground, raises considerable controversy. This controversy recently culminated in the Department of Health losing an appeal against an instruction from the Information Commission to publish more detailed statistics on abortions carried out on the grounds of foetal abnormality, particularly those that occur after 24 weeks' gestation. In this paper I criticise and reject the legitimacy of this controversial section and suggest possible alternative legislative approaches to the issues raised in 1(1)(d). The purpose of the paper is to use s.1(1)(d) as a catalyst for suggesting more dramatic changes to abortion law in Great Britain. The article concludes with a consideration of the significance of s.1(1)(d) in our wider framing of disability in the context of reproductive choices. Drawing from writing in disability studies I suggest that s.1(1)(d) problematically reifies the importance of the physical aspects of disability. It is also problematic because of the presumptive effect it could have on choices following prenatal screening. Many authors argue that the statistically small numbers of abortions carried out on grounds of foetal abnormality, particularly after 24 weeks' gestation, are disproportionate to the controversy it causes. I reject this on the basis of the impact that s.1(1)(d) has had on the regulation of reproductive choice in other areas; specifically preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. I conclude by arguing that s.1(1)(d) is a relic of an overly medicalised approach to disability and abortion.

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  • Sheelagh McGuinness

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