Aborted for perfection
By SUELLEN HINDE
FETUSES are being aborted after 20 weeks in Victoria because of minor, treatable birth defects such as cleft palates and club feet.
The revelation has raised fears that abortion is being used to satisfy parents' desire for the "perfect" baby.
Ultrasounds have been able to pick up the presence of a cleft palate in an unborn baby only in the past few years through advancements in technology.
There were 191 perinatal deaths because of birth defects in Victoria in 2004 – 130 of which were terminated after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Victorian Perinatal Data Collection Unit.
Many of the birth defects were serious conditions of the central nervous or cardiovascular system and the babies were unlikely to survive.
But the figures show 12 late-term abortions for musculoskeletal abnormalities, a category that includes dwarfism, club feet and cleft palate conditions.
Anti-abortion crusader Victorian senator Julian McGauran said to "snuff out a life so late for so little is abhorrent and ought to be a crime".
"These defects are being picked up late term and if society knew this was a practice going on in major hospitals they would not accept it," Senator McGauran said.
Victorian cleft palate support group Cleftpals Vic said the trend was alarming and sad.
Group co-ordinator Marie Alabakov, whose 21-year-old daughter has a cleft palate, said she knew nothing of her daughter's condition until she was born.
"If people are doing this, it is because of their fear of the unknown and a lack of information," she said.
"Knowing what I know, I would not have changed my mind to have her.
"The condition is entirely treatable with surgery and physiotherapy and it is amazing what doctors can do.
"These days after treatment, a cleft palate appears little more than a scar on the lip."
Cleft palates are the sixth most common birth defect in Victoria, occurring at a rate of one in 952 pregnancies.
The Royal Women's Hospital would not confirm whether it was doing late term abortions because of babies having cleft palates.
"The hospital only performs terminations because the mental or physical health of the mother is in danger," a spokeswoman said.