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Police to Investigate Abortion of 28-Week-Old Baby.

Under pressure, police in Hertfordshire, England, are reluctantly opening a criminal investigation into the abortion of 28-week-old baby diagnosed with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, brought to light by Church of England curate Joanna Jepson.

In theory, under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is allowed "only" through the 24th week, unless there is a serious threat to the mother or if the baby would be born with "a serious handicap." The description of "serious handicap" is imprecise, which pro-lifers adamantly insist has left the door wide open to eugenic abortions for even the most trivial malformations.

Poring over abortion statistics, Rev. Jepson discovered that in December 2001, a 28-week-old baby had been aborted because the parents did not want a child with a cleft lip and palate. When the case first began to attract attention, Alexandra De Laszlo, deputy chief executive of the Cleft Lip and Palate Association, told the BBC that she did not know the particular case, but added, "I am quite surprised and concerned that a cleft lip was considered a major disability." De Laszlo said the operation to correct a cleft lip was "routine."

Since her discovery, Rev. Jepson, the curate at St. Michael's Church in Chester, has worked unflaggingly to have police in West Mercia, England, prosecute the abortionists responsible. In the process she has become, as one reporter described it, the "centre of a legal maelstrom."

Rev. Jepson was herself born with a congenital jaw defect corrected by surgery. She said the abortion was an "unlawful killing" because in most cases a cleft palate can be cured by surgery, according to LifeSite News.com.

Police initially stonewalled her request for a criminal investigation of the abortion. But last December Rev. Jepson won permission from the High Court to challenge in court the police's refusal to prosecute. She had first sought the investigation in September 2002.

More recently, adding intensity to an already heated discussion, the name of one of the two abortionists who agreed to the abortion, Michael Cohn, became public. He could be charged with willfully failing to meet the requirements of the Abortion Act, or, according to LifeSite News.com, "Police could charge him under the Offenses Against the Human Person Act with a possible penalty of up to life imprisonment."

But the police department's change of position is not necessarily unambiguously good news. The judicial review, at a minimum, has been put on hold.

The London Telegraph described the situation this way: "A judicial review, due to start on May 24, has been delayed indefinitely under pressure from West Mercia Police, who have reopened a criminal investigation into the case."

For her part, Rev. Jepson told reporters May 9, "I have had to agree to this because there is case law to say that the judicial review could not go ahead while an investigation is in process. At this stage, we feel it is necessary to cooperate. It is frustrating, but I hope this way means the issue is not going to be fudged by another investigation."

She added, "It is my undying hope that the police not only take into account the surviving individuals involved in the case, but also the one whose life was taken away," according to the Telegraph. "This case has highlighted a grave injustice against babies deemed unfit to live because of an impairment. ... We therefore look forward to the judicial review as this is essential to a wider redress of this discrimination in our society."

Just how troublesome the delay could be, however, is clear from the Telegraph's account. "Although the review is provisionally expected to go ahead in September, concern is growing that it could collapse if police decide to press charges against Dr Cohn." That speculation is fueled by the idea that since the major reason the High Court agreed to the review was the failure of West Mercia police to investigate a potentially criminal act, the police decision to go forward "could be an insurmountable obstacle," the Telegraph reported.

This could mean, the newspaper wrote, "that the definition of a `severe handicap'... will be left unclarified and subject to interpretation by individual doctors and parents."

Fortunately, Jepson is not alone. She has friends in high places. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Hereford have both expressed support for Jepson's lawsuit. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, told her privately she has his "full backing" in her campaign to stop abortions for "trivial reasons," according to LifeSite News.com.

Rev. Jepson's "commitment to the cause does not simply stem from theological study and moral conviction but from her life experience," the online publication Conservatism wrote. "Joanna herself had corrective surgery for a congenital jaw abnormality as a child, and her 25-year-old brother Alastair has Downs Syndrome, a condition sometimes used as a reason for carrying out late abortions."

Just how passionately she feels comes through clearly in this extended quote from Conservatism.

"To take away lives for such reasons is completely abhorrent," says Joanna. "Having been in that position myself, is society saying I should have died? I'm driven by a sense of injustice. My brother was bullied because of his Downs Syndrome, and this has given me a real sense of passion. The fact is that some of these babies are wiped out because they're not perfect. There is nothing and no-one to protect them, except the law. And when that becomes abused, they don't stand a chance. They have no voice. I want to be that voice if I possibly can, and hopefully others will be as well."
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Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:931
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