Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(2) May 2017

Abortion, Disability and the Law

From a Student Midwife

“You created my inmost self, knit me together in my mother's womb. For so many marvels I thank you; a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders”. (Psalm 139, 13-14)



The Conference, hosted by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, took place on Saturday 18th February in the beautiful framework of the Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

After a warm welcome by Professor Jones, Director of the Centre, the morning unfolded between talks, coffees and open Q&A discussion. Professor Finnis, the first speaker, used his expertise and passion about the Law to define a brief history of abortion in the case of foetal abnormality in the UK. Following from that, Dr Watt analyzed, from an ethical perspective, the morality of improving abortion laws without falling into the complicity of unjust intentions. The setting changed from the UK to Ireland with a talk by the lawyer Caroline Simons, who is battling for the Irish constitution to continue its protection of the rights of the unborn child.

During lunch and over coffee the audience had the opportunity to mingle, sharing thoughts and asking further questions to the speakers. I had the privilege to meet Sally Phillips, actress and author of the BBC documentary “A World Without Down's Syndrome” (a must-watch if you haven’t done it already!) and many other passionate experts in the fields of ethical medicine.

The afternoon abandoned the academic style of the morning, leaving space to Professor John Wyatt, who practiced for many years at UCLH as a consultant neonatologist. During his career, Professor Wyatt has sought to provide a valid, compassionate and realistic alternative to abortion after a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. Neonatal palliative care has proven to be this alternative. Aiming at neither prolonging life nor hastening death, neonatal palliative care allows parents to meet and spend time with their baby, surrounded by medical and social support. Everyone was moved by Professor Wyatt’s humanity and integrity and by some of the stories he shared with the audience.

A panel discussion concluded the day, bringing some light to the reality of living with Down’s Syndrome. Chairing the panel was Jane Jessop, Heidi Crowter and Liz Crowter. Jane, founder of a theatre company for people with disabilities, showed the audience some clips of her son Tommy, who has Down’s, performing on stage. Heidi, an energetic and inspirational Down’s Syndrome campaigner, and her mother Liz explained some of the challenges that people with Down’s and their families might face, such as independent living, managing money, addressing stigma. All the members passionately advocated for a better awareness of what it truly means to live with the condition: a beautiful, fulfilling life, with challenges and some pitfalls, just like every other life is.

Overall the conference was a success, adding both theoretical and empirical knowledge to the crucial debate on abortion and disability. Thank you to the Anscombe Centre for organizing it and to everyone who contributed to the day.

For more information about the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and its activities: