Curate Wins Legal Challenge to Late Cleft-Lip Abortions ; HIGH COURT the Rev Joanna Jepson Takes on Decision by Police Not to Prosecute Doctors and Reveals How She Overcame Disfigurement
Robert Verkaik Legal Affairs Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
A CURATE has won the first round in her legal battle to stop doctors performing late abortions for what she believes are cosmetic or trivial reasons.
The High Court in London cleared the way yesterday for the Rev Joanna Jepson to challenge a decision by West Mercia Police not to prosecute doctors who performed a late-stage abortion on a foetus which had been diagnosed as having a cleft lip and palate.
Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Jackson said the case raised important issues of public concern that needed to be argued at a full hearing. Lawyers said the challenge could lead to a reform of abortion legislation if Ms Jepson succeeded in showing that the Abortion Act 1967 was incompatible with the Human Rights Act 2000.
Ms Jepson, 27, curate of St Michael's Church in Chester, brought her action after discovering that a mother had been granted an abortion beyond the 24-week legal limit for legal terminations. Doctors caring for the mother took the view that a cleft palate could be a "serious handicap" that permitted them to abort the pregnancy after the 24-week threshold.
Ms Jepson, who underwent restorative surgery after she was born with a bilateral cleft palate, said after the ruling that the police failure to prosecute in the case "betrays the true value of this baby's life". She added: "I hope we shall succeed at trial and recognise once again the value and dignity of our common humanity, disabled or able-bodied, no matter what we look like."
She described how she had been bullied as a teenager because of her facial disfigurement. "My teenage years were difficult due to facial abnormality," she said. "I also have a brother with Down's syndrome. We both live positive and fulfilling lives.
"The baby in this case did not have this opportunity, despite the availability of excellent and routine medical help. The benefits of this surgery would have been positive for both the child and family. However, the advice of the Royal College [of Obstetricians] and the conduct of the doctors involved denied the baby these opportunities. …