United Kingdom

Should we ban late abortions for a cleft palate?


By Michelle Adams  

Proposed legislation to ban late-stage terminations for minor disabilities is close to my heart, because my daughter, whom I adopted when she was four months old, was born with a cleft palate.

You might assume since I turned to adoption to become a mother that I’m against terminations. I’m not. I support the right of any woman to abort and I am proudly pro-choice.

But when it comes to an abortion for a cleft, I wonder if decisions are taken because of a misguided idea about what raising a child with this condition is really like.

Michelle Adams said my daughter, whom I adopted when she was four months old, was born with a cleft palate

If you contest this bill, perhaps you think the challenges a parent may face are insurmountable.

I’d like to put forward a different experience, and tell you about the happiness our daughter has brought us, which far outweighs any challenge presented by her cleft palate.

Let’s start with the hard part. Feeding my child — first by passing a tube through her nose to her stomach, and later by using specialist nursing bottles with minor adaptations — was stressful.

We cried, both with worry that we were failing, and joy when we found a method that worked. Weaning was messy too, and most of her soft food came out through her nose. I’m convinced she still hates butternut squash for this very reason.

After becoming skilled at feeding we had to face the need for surgery. Fear gripped us while we waited, wondering whether it would be a success, and the 12 hours that followed, walking up and down a ward bouncing my daughter in my arms to ease her discomfort, were exhausting. 

Not being able to give her a dummy was excruciating. But the following day she awoke desperate for food and by day two she was playing with toys, almost as if nothing had happened.

These moments were all tough, challenging and unforgettable for the wrong reasons. 

But in what version of motherhood do we not face challenges? When the current abortion laws were last assessed, specialist feeding devices were limited and the surgical options for repair less advanced than they are today.

Things have changed, and so have attitudes towards such conditions. My daughter is a happy, smart, brave little warrior, who brings us, and others, so much joy. We no longer have to make allowances in daily life for her previously cleft palate.

I never had to face the decision of terminating a pregnancy, and I’m not sharing this story with the intent to pressure any woman who is.

But I do believe that if I’d been faced with that choice, and chose to continue with the pregnancy, it would undoubtedly have been the right one.


 By Helena Frith Powell   

The sentiment behind this bill, which seeks to impose a 24-week time limit on aborting babies with minor physical abnormalities such as a cleft palate or a club foot, may be worthy. But I don’t agree with it — for two very good reasons.

First, I find the idea that the nanny state knows best abhorrent. Why are we going backwards? In an era where everybody’s ‘rights’ are paraded as unquestionable, why is this fundamental women’s right even being discussed?

No woman ever wants to have an abortion. It is not something she will do without thought, regret, anguish, and a lot of soul-searching. Aborting a foetus goes against every instinct in our body.

But sometimes it is necessary, sometimes it is the only way forward for the mother, and it needs to be her choice alone. In the same way every woman is an individual, every pregnancy is different.

Helena Frith Powell said in an era where everybody’s ‘rights’ are paraded as unquestionable, why is this fundamental women’s right even being discussed?

How can we impose legislation that treats us all as the same? And why don’t we trust women to make the right choice for themselves and their families? Does the state really have the right (let alone the understanding) to say: ‘I know what’s best for you; you must have this baby because I say so’?

Second, this bill is flawed because it is clearly the thin end of the anti-abortion wedge. If it becomes law, will the floodgates open to more abortion debate and more erosion of women’s rights?

Just look at what has happened in the U.S. state of Alabama, where a legal challenge is the only thing stopping abortion becoming completely illegal from the moment of conception. This would be a hugely retrograde step, bringing American women closer to some places in the Middle East, where I used to live and where abortion is illegal.

That doesn’t mean abortions don’t happen; they are just illegal, expensive and downright dangerous, reminiscent of Britain in Victorian days when women had to seek out back-street ‘medics’, who were no more qualified than butchers.

There is no doubt this is an extremely sensitive issue. Pro-lifers would argue it is so emotive because of the death of the foetus. Their lobby goes so far as to call abortion murder. But I would argue the person who suffers most during a termination is the mother.

Which is why I wonder if this bill is even necessary. I don’t know a single woman who would put herself through the trauma of a late abortion if she didn’t absolutely feel she had to.

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