Nearly twenty thousand people have signed a petition calling on ITV to cancel an upcoming storyline of classic British soap opera, Emmerdale, which has a plot centred on the disability-selective abortion of a baby with Down’s syndrome.
Producers for the show revealed that the episode would revolve around one of the main characters, Laurel (portrayed by Charlotte Bellamy), and her partner, Jai (portrayed by Chris Bisson), learning that their unborn child might have Down’s syndrome.
After consideration, the characters decide to terminate the pregnancy based on the diagnosis.
After the news broke, many parents of children with Down’s syndrome took to social media to express their outrage and disappointment about the storyline.
Hannah Wellbourn, whose daughter Willow has the condition, wrote: “Not only are you doing this when people close to us are fighting hard to get abortion rules changed so those with Down Syndrome have the same rights as any of us, but you have also done this straight after Down Syndrome Awareness month…
“A month where we as parents advocate for our children and shout out about our amazing experiences and lives!”
Sharon Thomson, whose six-year-old son has the condition, said: “It’s bad enough that health care professionals present Down’s syndrome so negatively without it being done the same way on television. It’s an ignorant and outdated view.
“It’s disappointing that this is the way they have decided to portray what it’s like finding out your unborn baby has Down’s syndrome.
“There will be adults with Down’s syndrome watching that show feeling very hurt and upset and perhaps wondering if they should have been terminated. It’s very sad, especially because, for me, Down’s syndrome is not a negative thing. There are so many positives and Alex is our wonderful little boy.”
Sally Phillips, an actress who has been outspoken on the issue took to Twitter stating that, “The storyline is on the wrong side of history.”
She also called attention to the problematic consultants for the episode, Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), who are prominent advocates of disabilty-selective abortion being available up to birth.
ARC, founded in 1988, was originally called Support After Termination For Abnormality (SAFTA), changing their name to Support Around Termination For Abnormality in 1993 and finally adopting the name Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) in 1998.
This winter’s episode with be the ninth time the soap has written a storyline with a character having an abortion since its start in 1972.
Disability-selective abortion in the UK
Disability-selective abortion has become an increasing issue in recent years. In 2019 there were 3,183 disability-selective abortions across England & Wales, with 656 of those occurring following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.
However, the figures are likely to be much higher.
In a 2013 review on disability-selective abortions, it was revealed 886 babies were aborted for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010, but only 482 of these were reported in official Department of Health records.
The underreporting was confirmed in 2014 in a Department of Health review.
There has also been an increase in the number of abortions of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome since the introduction of new prenatal screening tests.
Figures published last year show that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome in the UK has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new non-invasive prenatal tests.
The figures prompted Down’s syndrome advocates to ask the Government to halt the roll-out of the new tests and undertake an inquiry into the impact that the tests are having on the birth numbers of babies with Down’s syndrome.
However, their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears, as the Government recently announced that it will be proceeding with the procurement and rollout of a nationwide prenatal testing scheme for Down’s syndrome – something which will likely lead to an increase of babies with the condition being aborted.
Parents under pressure to terminate pregnancies
In addition, a recent report revealed that pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision.
One mother, whose child is now four-years-old, said medical professionals told her they could leave her baby with Down’s syndrome to die if it was struggling after birth.
Another mum told how, even at 38 weeks’ pregnant, she was being offered an abortion.
Debate on Down’s syndrome testing in Westminster
In October of this year, DUP MP Jim Shannon expressed concern during a debate that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new non-invasive prenatal tests.
Sharing in his trepidation, SNP MP Dr Lisa Cameron echoed the comments of Stacey Corrigan, whose six-year-old son, Daniel Murray, has Down’s syndrome.
Stacey had told the Daily Record that the current advice given to parents expecting a baby with Down’s syndrome is both “outdated” and “negative”.
“More often than not the termination is booked at that appointment while the parents are still in shock with the diagnosis,” she added.
The Scottish mother believes pregnant women deserve to be better informed and supported.Dr Lisa Cameron said a “more comprehensive and accurate narrative needs to be provided,” recognising the richness and diversity of the Down’s syndrome community across the UK.