MPs fear prenatal testing will result in discriminatory abortions against babies with Down’s syndrome

Politicians fear the roll-out of prenatal tests for Down’s syndrome across England, Wales and Scotland will result in discriminatory abortions of babies with the condition.

In a debate, commemorating Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month, DUP MP Jim Shannon expressed concern 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.

In recent months, the health services in England & Wales and Scotland have announced their intention to roll-out the new tests across all NHS hospitals. 

Jim Shannon believes this is putting the UK on the path to the situation in other countries, where almost 100% babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted, which is “chilling to the core”.

Outdated and negative views

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had told the Daily Record that the current advice given to parents expecting a baby with Down’s syndrome is both “outdated” and “negative”.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 with 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.

Parents under pressure to terminate pregnancies

Stacey isn’t the first mother to express concern over the negative advice given to her following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.

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 three-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.

Time for positive conversations about Down’s syndrome

Picking up on these concerns, Rachel Maskell encouraged the present Minister for Health, Helen Whately, to “go away and look again at the conversations that are had with parents who are diagnosed in pregnancy with somebody with Down’s syndrome and see how we can change that conversation, so that people can understand the positivity of bringing up a child and raising someone into adulthood with Down’s syndrome?”

In response, the Health Minister said: “it is absolutely the case that if, during pregnancy, any abnormality is detected or suspected there should at no stage be any bias towards abortion.”

Concluding the short debate, she added: “It is crucial that we should celebrate the achievements and contributions of those with Down’s syndrome to our society, so we have been and are taking action to support those with disabilities, including Down’s syndrome, but I believe that we can always do more and go further. So I say, let’s do that. Let’s do more and go further to support people with Down’s syndrome to achieve their dreams.”

Earlier this month, Dr Lisa Cameron launched an Early Day Motion celebrating the contribution people with Down’s syndrome bring to communities, families, workplaces and society at large.

Scale of Down’s syndrome abortions

There were 3,183 disability selective abortions across England & Wales in 2019, 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.

‘Screening out’ babies with Down’s syndrome seen as ‘cash cow’

Earlier this year a spokesperson for a Chinese biotech firm declared “screening out” babies with Down’s syndrome is a “cash cow” funding the growth of the whole business.

The admission came from a spokesperson for BGI Group – a Chinese genetics conglomerate whose main business is offering non-invasive prenatal tests, primarily used to diagnose Down’s syndrome. 

In a segment from an Aljazeera documentary titled Genesis 2.0, the spokesperson gestures towards a digital map of the world and says: “You can see clearly, especially for Down’s syndrome, we have nearly two million samples all over the world. This part is, what we call, BGI’s cash cow, making money to support the growth of the whole group.”

Dismissing a query over potential ethical concerns, she coldly adds: “…with the use of our technology, we could avoid the birth of birth defect, like a Down’s syndrome birth, a Down’s syndrome child, we can screen them out, we can avoid the birth of them.”

Legal challenge

This week it was announced that The High Court in London will hear a landmark case against the UK Government over the country’s discriminatory abortion legislation.

Currently in England, Scotland and Wales, the law singles out babies with disabilities such as cleft lip and club foot and Down’s syndrome and allows terminations right up to the point of birth. However, there is a 24-week time limit for most abortions that are carried out when a baby does not have a disability.

Heidi Carter, a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose sixteen-month-old son Aidan also has the condition, both believe this is “deeply offensive” and have joined forces to challenge the law.

Poland’s top court votes to protect babies with disabilities from ‘eugenic’ abortion

Poland’s top court has ruled that disability-selective abortions, which make up a majority of all terminations in Poland, are unconstitutional.

The decision by the country’s Constitutional Court today will mean the majority of unborn babies in Poland will be protected from abortion.

Once the court’s ruling comes into effect, terminations will only be permissible in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

Protection of life

The ruling came in response to a motion filed, last year, by a large cross-party group of lawmakers from Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Confederation Liberty and Independence Party and Polish Coalition Party.

In their application, the 119 parliamentarians argued that allowing terminations on the basis of disability, such as cleft lip, club foot or Down’s syndrome, would be in violation of the Polish Constitution which protects the dignity and right to life of every human person.  

11 of Poland’s 13 Constitutional Court judges agreed. In its decision, the court said there can be no protection of the dignity of an individual without the protection of life.

‘Poland is on the side of life’

According to Polsat News, when the decision was announced, pro-life campaigners celebrated outside the court shouting “Thank you” and “Poland is on the side of life”.

Polling has revealed there is strong support for pro-life measures in the country.

A CBOS survey found that 75% of Polish people think abortion is “always wrong and can never be justified”. Meanwhile, only 7% thought there was “nothing wrong with it and could always be justified”.

Additionally, earlier this year a ‘Citizens’ initiative against eugenic abortion’ supporting a ban on disability-selective abortion gathered 830,000 signatures from Polish residents, indicating further strong support for the change in law.

Will the UK be the next to offer protection to disabled babies

Pro-life campaigners are hoping the ruling will have a positive influence on the UK, where the High Court in London will hear a landmark case against the UK Government over the country’s discriminatory abortion legislation.

Currently in England, Scotland and Wales, the law singles out babies with disabilities such as cleft lip and club foot and Down’s syndrome and allows terminations right up to the point of birth. However, there is a 24-week time limit for most abortions that are carried out when a baby does not have a disability.

Heidi Carter, a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose sixteen-month-old son Aidan also has the condition, both believe this is “deeply offensive” and have joined forces to challenge the law.

High Court to hear landmark case against discriminatory abortion law

The High Court in London will hear a landmark case against the UK Government over the country’s discriminatory abortion legislation, which singles out babies with disabilities by allowing terminations right through to birth for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

Currently in England, Scotland and Wales, there is a 24-week time limit for most abortions that are carried out when a baby does not have a disability. However, if the baby has a disability, abortion is legal right up to birth.

Heidi Carter, a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose sixteen-month-old son Aidan also has the condition, both believe this is “deeply offensive” and have joined forces to challenge the law.

‘Downright discrimination’

Heidi Carter, who recently got married in one of the first post-lockdown weddings, said:

“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped’. They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped – just because I have an extra chromosome! Can you believe that?

“What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination!”

She added: “I am going to take the Government to court with other members of the Down’s syndrome community to make sure that people aren’t treated differently because of their disabilities.”

Equal worth?

Máire, an accountant, equality rights campaigner and mother said: “Our case is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion. It’s about the specific instance of inequality in the law, whereby for a child without a disability the legal limit for abortion is 24 weeks, but you can have an abortion right up to full term with a child that does have a disability.

“I have two sons, and I love and value them equally; however, the law does not value them equally. That feels so wrong to me, and so we want to try and change that.

“I was 34 weeks pregnant when we discovered it was likely that Aidan would have Down’s syndrome.

“The first thing they wanted to discuss at the hospital was whether we would like to terminate the pregnancy. It felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby. At such a late stage of pregnancy, and at a time when I was scared and vulnerable, that was a very difficult question to get asked. I find it very hard to think back on that time.

“I find it difficult to think that Aidan’s life isn’t seen as valuable as his older brother’s. It makes me worry as to whether he will be seen the same or treated the same.  I also really worry that when he is older, if this law is still in place, how will that make him feel: that he’s not as valuable? That he doesn’t have equal worth?

“Aidan is a little ray of sunshine. He’s had some challenges and done so well so we’re just really proud of him. I would not change him for the world.”

Speaking to Sky News yesterday, the 32-year-old added: “I want my children to grow up knowing that we truly are all equally valued, regardless of ability status.

“My reason for bringing this joint legal action to try and change the law is simple; as a mother, I will do everything in my power to make sure my child is treated fairly and equally. My reason is Aidan.”

Widespread support

Heidi and Máire’s legal challenge has generated widespread support from those with first-hand experience of Down’s syndrome, pro-life campaigners, disability advocates and more.

Over 6,000,000 people have watched Heidi tell Channel 5 the current law is “deeply offensive” and still more have watched her telling the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that the current law makes her feel “unloved and unwanted”.

The campaign has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media, with people adding #ImWithAidan and #ImWithHeidi to their posts.

The support for Aidan, Heidi and Máire is in line with polling on the issue, which shows that the majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland feel that disability should not be grounds for abortion at all. Just one in three people think it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability.

Scale of Down’s syndrome abortions

There were 3,183 disability selective abortions across England & Wales in 2019, 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.

‘Screening out’ babies with Down’s syndrome seen as ‘cash cow’

Earlier this year a spokesperson for a Chinese biotech firm declared “screening out” babies with Down’s syndrome is a “cash cow” funding the growth of the whole business.

The admission came from a spokesperson for BGI Group – a Chinese genetics conglomerate whose main business is offering non-invasive prenatal tests, primarily used to diagnose Down’s syndrome. 

In a segment from an Aljazeera documentary titled Genesis 2.0, the spokesperson gestures towards a digital map of the world and says: “You can see clearly, especially for Down’s syndrome, we have nearly two million samples all over the world. This part is, what we call, BGI’s cash cow, making money to support the growth of the whole group.”

Dismissing a query over potential ethical concerns, she coldly adds: “…with the use of our technology, we could avoid the birth of birth defect, like a Down’s syndrome birth, a Down’s syndrome child, we can screen them out, we can avoid the birth of them.”

Parents under pressure to terminate pregnancies

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 three-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.

‘Barbaric’

Sally Phillips, actress, comedian, and mother to Ollie who has Down’s syndrome previously told the Times: “Given advances in medical care and quality of life for people with Down’s syndrome, the different right to life is beginning to look not just dated but barbaric.”

‘Inequality, sanctioned, sponsored and funded by the state’

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, said:

“By stating that disability is grounds for termination, section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act, promotes inequality. It would be totally condemned if a country’s abortion laws singled out babies on the ground of gender or skin colour, but because it’s a disability such as Down’s syndrome, that’s somehow ok? This is inequality, sanctioned, sponsored and funded by the state.

“This provision in the Abortion Act is a hangover from a time when we had totally different attitudes to the inclusion and contribution of people with disabilities. You only have to look at the discriminatory language used by all sides of the debate in Parliament when this was discussed in 1967 and 1990 to realise how far attitudes have changed. Society has moved on but the law hasn’t. It’s time it did.”

“We live in a society which proclaims that we want to empower those with disabilities, and that regardless of your background, you deserve a fair and equal chance at life. We believe that our laws must reflect this narrative.”

Justice

Heidi and her legal team have set up a CrowdJustice crowdfunding page to help raise funds for legal proceedings, pay for legal advice and prepare for the case. To find out more and to make a contribution to the case visit: www.crowdjustice.com/case/downrightdiscrimination/

MP criticises UK Government for imposing discriminatory disability abortion on Northern Ireland

DUP MP Carla Lockhart has criticised the UK Government for imposing discriminatory abortion legislation on Northern Ireland, which allows babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome to be aborted right up to birth.

Addressing the Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker MP, in the House of Commons yesterday, the pro-life MP said the Government’s actions allow “disability discrimination within the womb that would otherwise be illegal outside of the womb.”

Her comments come ahead of October’s Down’s syndrome awareness month – a month Carla says we should use to “celebrate Down’s syndrome, raise awareness and promote inclusivity within our society”.

How Northern Ireland’s discriminatory abortion law came about

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose a new abortion regime on the province, despite all of the Northern Ireland MPs who were present voting against the proposals.

Despite the global coronavirus crisis and the Northern Ireland Assembly returning on 11 January 2020, the Conservative Government announced that they would proceed with imposing an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland on 31 March 2020.

The Conservative Government chose to take what Parliament asked them to impose on Northern Ireland and made it far worse. This has resulted in Northern Ireland having one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world.

Under the new regulations, abortion is allowed up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome, whereas if the baby does not have a condition, there is a 24-week time limit.

The regulations also introduce de-facto abortion on demand through to 24-weeks and allow sex-selective abortion through 12-weeks.

In June, in each House’s final vote on the issue, both the House of Commons and House of Lords voted in favour of motions approving the Government’s decision to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland.

This was despite a reconvened Northern Ireland Assembly passing a motion opposing the regulations. Additionally, across the two votes held, 75 of Northern Ireland’s 90 MLAs voted against the provisions in the regulations allowing discriminatory disability abortion up to birth.

‘Downright discrimination in the womb’

Carla has long been an outspoken critic of the UK Government’s decision to impose abortion on Northern Ireland, and is a supporter of Heidi Carter, the 25-year-old with Down’s syndrome who has launched a landmark legal challenge against the UK’s discriminatory abortion law.

Ahead of the vote in June, Carla and Heidi delivered a petition to the Prime Minister urging him not to push abortion on Northern Ireland against the will of its people.

Speaking just outside the gates of 10 Downing Street, in June, Heidi said: “I’m asking MPs to allow equality in the womb for every baby.

“I want this to happen because I’m someone who has Down’s Syndrome and I feel that the law makes me upset, it makes me feel like I’m better off dead.

“I think it sends a really negative message.”

She added: “I think the law which allows abortion up to birth for non-fatal disabilities such as mine is downright discrimination in the womb.”

‘Both lives matter’

Carla Lockhart MP who launched the petition with Baroness O’Loan said:

“Along with over 18,000 people from Northern Ireland who signed the petition, we want to send a clear message to the Government that the people of Northern Ireland do not want Westminster imposing these extreme abortion laws on them.

“Instead, we join with Heidi Crowter in saying ‘no’ to discriminatory disability-selective abortion.

“We join Heidi in saying both lives matter.

New prenatal testing linked to increased abortion

The introduction of new prenatal screening tests has been linked to an increase in the number of Down’s syndrome babies aborted in the UK and around the world.

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.

Despite the possibility that prenatal testing is leading to discriminatory disability abortions, the UK Government announced last month that it will be proceeding with the procurement and rollout of a nationwide prenatal testing scheme for Down’s syndrome.

Scotland’s devolved health service announced this week they would also be rolling out the test.

Parents under pressure to terminate pregnancies

Last year, it was discovered 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.