Clergywoman Fights to Stop Cleft Palate Abortions

The British High Court Monday granted a clergywoman the right to take legal action against the police for failing to prosecute doctors who performed a late-term abortion of a fetus with a cleft palate (search).

Rev. Joanna Jepson's (search)

"Already, the designer baby debate is out in the public arena, so clearly it isn't a far cry away from that," Jepson told Fox News. "I think to actually class a cleft palate as a severe handicap is outrageous," she said.

Late-term abortion is allowed in the United Kingdom for fetuses that are found to be severely mentally or physically handicapped, but Jepson said she does not want unborn babies to be lost for trivial reasons.

A cleft palate occurs when the roof of the mouth has not joined completely. It creates a visual defect on the face and may cause speech impediments and breathing problems throughout life. But the deformity can be largely corrected with multiple surgeries.

The High Court ruled that Jepson, of St. Michael's Church in Chester, can take action against Paul West, chief constable of the West Mercia Police.

Announcing the ruling, Justice Rupert Jackson said Jepson had "substantial hurdles" to overcome in bringing her case.

"Notwithstanding that, I am persuaded, having listened to the statements of counsel, that this case does raise serious issues of law and issues of public importance which cannot be properly or fully argued in the context of a permission application," he said.

Richard Gordon, representing Jepson, argued the police decision was flawed and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (search), which sanctioned the abortion, had failed to follow official guidelines.

West said he appreciated the concerns that Jepson raised.

"However, when the matter was referred to West Mercia Constabulary for investigation, we sought the best possible medical and legal advice and acted in accordance with that advice," West said in a statement before the ruling.

The trial begins in February.

The fight is personal for Jepson, who said she would not be alive today if fetuses with facial deformities were routinely aborted. She was born with a degenerative jaw condition that she said resulted in teasing and taunting in her youth. She had corrective surgery in her late teens that proved painful but a success.

"The baby in this case did not have this opportunity, despite the availability of excellent and routine medical help," Jepson said after Monday's hearing.

"The benefits of this surgery would have been positive for both the child and family. I hope we shall succeed at trial and recognize once again the value and dignity of our common humanity, disabled or able-bodied, no matter what we look like."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.