The discrepancy was found after comparing abortion data from 2012 submitted to the DH and data recorded by the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register (NDSCR), an independent body that collects data on Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder typically caused by the presence of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is associated with various physical and cognitive disabilities.
NDSCR recorded 994 abortions of babies with Down syndrome in 2012, while the official government figures only recorded 496.
That leaves 498 Down syndrome abortions missing from Department of Health records, of which 11 are for abortions of babies 24 weeks and older.
This is actually a slight improvement from 2011, according to the report, which found that DH recorded “410 out of 937 NDSCR records, resulting in 527 not in the DH dataset –13 of which were for 24 weeks and over.” A DH spokesman said that doctors in the UK have a legal obligation to report all abortions - including those done due to a fetal abnormality - to the chief medical officer within 14 days.
The DH report gave some possible explanations for the severe under-reporting of Down syndrome abortions, citing physicians' lack of organization and ignorance of the requirements at abortion clinics.
"A possible explanation for some of the unmatched cases might be that some doctors completing an official Down’s syndrome Register form...think they do not need to complete an HSA4 [form]," the report noted. "It is also possible that some women may not be giving their correct postcode at abortion clinics.
“In none of the units visited was there any evidence or impression that there was willful failure to comply with the law, but rather a lack of understanding of the statutory requirements, which in turn produced a lack of organisation and accountability,” the report concluded.
“The NDSCR knows the correct figures because hospitals alert it every time a diagnosis of Down’s is made and it tracks cases to a birth or termination. Department of Health figures are compiled using abortion forms filled in by doctors.” according to the Daily Mail.
The UK’s 1991 amendment to the 1967 Abortion Act allows abortion of Down syndrome babies right up to the point of delivery.
However, the DH report states that under the Abortion Act, “an HSA4 form must be completed by the doctor undertaking the termination of pregnancy including those undertaken on the grounds that 'there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.'”
“Tory MP Fiona Bruce, chairman of the recent independent parliamentary inquiry into abortion for disability, said it was clear doctors had broken the law,” the Mail reported. “Worryingly, the department appears to have made no attempt to see that the law is properly enforced,” she was quoted as saying.
The UK ProLife Alliance is calling for an inquiry into the under-reporting.