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Mothers of babies with Down’s syndrome pressured to abort, Australian disability inquiry hears

The mothers of children with Down’s syndrome are revealing the pressure they are put under by medics, often while in an emotional state, to abort their unborn babies with the condition. 

The alarming testimonies were heard by Australia’s Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability as it began a two-week hearing on how individuals with a cognitive disability experience healthcare in the country. 

Toni Mitchell, from Toowoomba, says she’s had to continually justify the life of her son Joshua, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, to healthcare professionals.

Speaking to the Commission, Toni shared how one doctor assumed she would have an abortion when her Joshua was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome following a routine ultrasound scan.

After being told she was having a boy, a senior doctor told Toni it was highly likely her baby would have Down’s syndrome and could miscarry within several weeks.

While Toni was still crying the man said, “Here’s your appointment for a termination”, she said, and he gave her a piece of paper. 

“That was our introduction to it and it set the whole tone for Joshy’s life”, Toni said. 

“In that moment, they completely disallowed his life. They said he wasn’t worth living.”

Toni told the commission that she threw the paper in the bin.

“That was the moment I had to start justifying my son’s right to live and to be treated and I had to start justifying his value to be alive,” she said.

“For the whole rest of my pregnancy… they kept saying, you don’t understand what you’re doing.

“You don’t understand the immensity of bringing a child like this into the world, you don’t understand what a burden this is going to be on you and on society and your family.

“They kept just judging us based on my decision to give him a chance at life.”

Rebecca Kelly, whose son Ryan has Down syndrome, told the Commission that in the model of Australia’s health system “if you can’t cure it … then you eradicate it.”

“If you think that person’s life is a tragedy and that they suffer from this condition then you start to believe that it’s an act of kindness or that it’s a responsible act to do all you can to prevent that birth, and that becomes quite coercive,” she added.

However, likeToni experienced, Rebecca revealed the problems didn’t end with abortion pressure. 

Rebecca stated: “if you have a doctor [who] thinks that possibly your life’s going to be a little bit better if your child doesn’t make it because they’re taking that burden away from you, that has horrible implications for the level of care that you don’t get.”

The Royal Commission was established in April 2019 and will seek to provide an interim report by October 2020, and a final report by April 2022. It is hoped the report will lead to better healthcare for those with disabilities and more support for parents of children with disabilities. 

Last year, it was revealed pregnant mothers in the UK were facing similar pressure to abort children with Down’s syndrome. 

Research by Positive About Down Syndrome (PADS) shows that even after being offered an abortion and informing medical professionals that they wished to keep their baby, 46 percent of mothers were asked again if they wanted to abort.

Figures published just one month later found that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced new non-invasive prenatal tests, adding weight to the study conducted by PADS.

Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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Dear reader

In 2020, the UK Government imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which included a provision that legalised abortion right up to birth for disabilties including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

A new Bill has been launched at the Northern Ireland assembly that will remove the current provision that allows abortion for ‘severe fetal impairment’.

It is under these grounds in the regulations that babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can currently be singled out for abortion in Northern Ireland because of their disability and can be aborted right up to birth.

Before the new abortion regime was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, disability-selective abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot was not legal and there was a culture of welcoming and supporting people with these disabilities rather than eliminating them.

This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while there were 52 children born with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. 

This contrasts with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom where disability-selective abortion has been legal since 1967.

The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

We are, therefore, asking people like you to take 30 seconds of your time and add your support to the campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.

If you live in Northern Ireland: 
Ask your MLAs to vote to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot:

If you live outside Northern Ireland: 
Show your support by signing this petition in support of the Bill:

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