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LIFE DIGEST: Cleft-lip abortion not prosecuted in Britain; justices criticize Roe v. Wade; pro-life bills introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–The recent report that British officials will not prosecute two doctors who aborted a baby because the child had a cleft lip and palate produced shock and protests among pro-lifers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service announced March 16 it would not prosecute in the case of the late-term abortion. Jim England, a chief prosecutor, defended the decision by saying the doctors had decided there was a significant risk the child would be seriously handicapped, according to the British Medical Journal.

A cleft lip is a “separation of the two sides of the lip,” while a cleft palate is an “opening in the roof of the mouth in which the two sides of the palate did not fuse,” according to the Cleft Palate Foundation. Cleft lip and palate constitute the fourth most common birth defect in the United States, with one of every 700 newborns affected by one condition or both, the foundation reports on its Internet site. One in every 600 to 700 children in Britain is born with a cleft lip and/or palate, according to the Cleft Lip and Palate Association.

Children born with a cleft lip or palate can be totally rehabilitated through such treatments as surgery, dental or orthodontic care, and speech therapy, according to the Cleft Palate Foundation.

“This very sad case demonstrates the vicious consumerism of our culture,” said C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethics consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Children are treated like new cars. If the car doesn’t have the right options, people don’t want it.

“Children, perhaps especially children with disabilities, are gifts we receive from a loving heavenly Father, not our emblems of perfection, like a Mercedes hood ornament,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago, Ill., and editor of the journal Ethics and Medicine.

Julia Millington, political director of the Pro-life Alliance in England, told reporters, according to LifeNews.com, “We are alarmed by the reasons given by the [Crown Prosecution Service], but, with the eugenic mentality of medicine in the [United Kingdom], it is perhaps not surprising that two doctors would determine that the best destiny for a seven-month baby with a cleft palate is to be killed. This typifies current attitudes to prenatal disability whether in the test tube or the womb.”

Under British law, abortion is prohibited after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless there is a substantial likelihood the child will be seriously disabled.

Joanna Jepson, 28, who was in training for the Anglican clergy at the time, sought prosecution of the case after discovering an abortion for cleft lip and palate had been performed after the legal deadline in 2001, the BMJ reported. Such conditions should not be considered severe disabilities, said Jepson, who was born with a jaw defect that was surgically corrected when she was a teenager. She has a brother with Down syndrome.

“While I’m disappointed about the CPS’ decision to drop the case, I am pleased the case has raised the issue of late-term abortion and the plight of disabled babies in late-term pregnancy,” Jepson said, according to the Guardian newspaper. She said the case had “exposed grave discrimination,” adding she would seek legal advice regarding further actions.

JUSTICES TOUCH ON ROE — Two of the U.S. Supreme Court’s associate justices, including one who supports abortion rights, have recently criticized the 1973 opinion legalizing abortion throughout the country.

Antonin Scalia, whose distaste for the Roe v. Wade decision is well-known, took another shot at the ruling March 14. In a more surprising pronouncement, Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Roe as “not the way courts generally work,” according to the Associated Press.

Speaking to University of Kansas law students March 10, Ginsburg said she believed before her selection to the court in 1993 the country might have been better served if abortion rights had been gained gradually. “The law was changing,” she said, the AP reported. “Women were lobbying around that issue. The Supreme Court stopped all that by deeming every law — even the most liberal — as unconstitutional. That seemed to me not the way courts generally work.”

Speaking March 14 at a think tank in Washington, Scalia said abortion is an example of an issue where justices have discovered new rights in the Constitution, overriding the public policy process, the AP reported. Issues such as abortion and the death penalty should not be decided by judges, he said.

“You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it,” he said, according to the AP. “Abortion is off the democratic stage. Prohibiting it is unconstitutional, now and forever, coast to coast, until I guess we amend the Constitution.”

UNCOMMON ALLIES — A well-known advocate and a leading opponent of abortion rights are working together in the Senate to pass legislation intended to assist women whose unborn children test positive for Down syndrome and other conditions.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., a longtime legislative leader in the pro-choice movement, has joined Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., a consistent promoter of the sanctity of human life, in calling for adoption of the Prenatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act. Brownback is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R.-Wis., is the sponsor of a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

The legislation would call on healthcare providers who announce a positive test to pregnant women to refer them to support services and to provide them with the latest information on the life expectancy of children with the diagnosed condition, their mental and physical development, and treatment options. It also would authorize a report on current healthcare services for children and support opportunities for their families.

Brownback said he was concerned about the response to positive tests for conditions such as Down syndrome.

“For some conditions that can be detected in the womb, we are aborting 80 percent or more of the babies who test positive,” Brownback said in a written release March 16 after introducing the bill. “The effect of this sort of ‘weeding out’ is creating new eugenics, a form of systematic, disability based discrimination.”

Sensenbrenner said in a written statement, “Children should not have to pass a genetic test in order to be born.”

Kennedy is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Senate bill, which is S. 609. The House bill is H.R. 1353.

CLONING BAN BACK — Opponents of human cloning again are seeking a comprehensive prohibition on the practice in Congress.

Brownback, along with lead Senate Democratic sponsor Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, reintroduced March 17 a measure to ban cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., with Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan again as the chief Democratic sponsor, reintroduced the Human Cloning Prohibition Act in the House on the same date.

In two previous Congresses, the House has approved the bill without the Senate acting on it. Opponents of the legislation have introduced alternatives that ban reproductive cloning but permit the practice for research purposes, which results in the destruction of the cloned embryo.

“All human cloning is reproductive,” Brownback said in a March 17 statement upon reintroducing the bill. “What we must decide as a society is what do we do with the young, cloned human? We have yet to collectively answer the ethical questions involved with implanting that clone or destroying it for research.”

The legislation is S. 658 in the Senate and H.R. 1357 in the House. Landrieu is the only Democrat among the 28 Senate cosponsors. There are 103 House cosponsors.

NO TO ‘MORNING-AFTER PILL’ — The Senate rejected March 17 legislation calling for $100 million in the federal budget to be used for family planning programs that would include insurance coverage of contraception and promotion of the use of the “morning-after pill,” also known as emergency contraception.

Senators defeated the amendment, introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., in a 53-47 vote. Before the vote, Clinton said from the Senate floor the “prevention first amendment” is an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R.-N.H., chairman of the Budget Committee, opposed the measure, pointing out it would have eliminated abstinence-only programs from receiving funds under the bill and would have increased corporate taxes by $200 million.

Pro-lifers generally oppose the “morning-after” pill because it acts after conception, preventing implantation of the tiny embryo in the uterine wall.