Thursday, September 23, 2004

Abortion Over Cleft Palate Investigated

The Scotsman Thu 23 Sep 2004
Cleft palate abortion doctors investigated
JOHN INNES

POLICE investigating a late abortion which was carried out on a woman
who did not want a baby with a cleft lip and palate have sent a file to
prosecutors, it emerged yesterday.

The inquiry was reopened following a judicial review of the case sought
by the Rev Joanna Jepson, the curate of St Michael's Church in Chester,
who believes prosecutions should have been brought against the doctors
involved in the operation.

West Mercia Police said yesterday that the new investigation has been
completed and the Crown Prosecution Service will now advise them if any
further inquiries need to be made or whether anyone should be charged.

Detective Superintendent Ray Groves, who was appointed to head the
investigation following the judicial review in April 2004, said their
inquiries into the abortion in December 2001 had been "comprehensive".

He added: "We have approached this investigation with an open mind and
interviewed all people associated with the case.

"A file of evidence has now been completed and delivered to the Crown
Prosecution Service, who will advise us on what further inquiries, if
any, need to made or what charges, if any, should be brought.

"It is not possible to comment further until the CPS have had
opportunity to review the file and provide that advice."

Ms Jepson won permission late last year to challenge the refusal of
police to bring charges against doctors who carried out the abortion.

Her lawyers have argued that there should have been further
investigations with a view to prosecution because an abortion could
never be justified under the 1967 Abortion Act on the basis that a cleft
lip and palate were a "serious handicap".

The abortion at the centre of the case was carried out in 2001 when the
woman, from Herefordshire, was more than 24 weeks pregnant - the legal
limit for abortions unless there is a risk of serious disability.

Ms Jepson, 27, grew up with a facial deformity and as a teenager had
undergone corrective surgery on a congenital jaw defect.

She also has a brother with Down's syndrome.

Speaking after the High Court hearing in December last year, she said
that neither condition had prevented them from leading positive and
fulfilling lives.

She added: "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."

Ms Jepson's initial application for a judicial review of the case was
rejected in November last year. However, following an appeal to the High
Court in London, Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Jackson reversed that
decision.

The judges had criticised the way Ms Jepson's challenge had been
presented to the court, but agreed the case raised "issues of law and
issues of public importance" which should go to a full hearing.

Richard Gordon, QC, appearing for Ms Jepson, had argued at the time that
the police decision not to go forward with the investigation was fatally
flawed.

In addition to the contravention of the 1967 Abortion Act, he had argued
that the that the parents' views of the were "irrelevant" as to what
constituted a serious handicap, and that the Royal College of
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists had failed to follow official
guidelines.