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.

Cleft lip abortions increase 150%

The number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has increased 150% since 2011, in England & Wales.

The new figures, released in response to a parliamentary question by pro-life MP Fiona Bruce, revealed that there were 10 terminations for those with the condition in 2011 with the figure rising to 25 in 2018 – representing a 150% increase.

The data also found that there had been a total of 223 abortions on unborn babies with cleft lip over the last 10 years.

However, the figures are likely to be even higher as abortions for cleft lip are routinely under-reported. 

In 2013, findings from a European register revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported.

Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies, with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010.

The Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions, during that time, but admitted in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.

Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down’s Syndrome was double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.

She told The Sunday Times: “Babies are aborted for Down’s and they still don’t put that on the abortion form, so if they can’t do it for Down’s, why would they put cleft lip?” 

Currently, abortion is available up to birth in England, Wales and Scotland if the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot whereas if the baby does not have a condition, there is a 24-week time limit.

A 24-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome has now launched a landmark case against the UK Government over the discriminatory abortion law that singles out people like her.

Heidi Crowter has joined with Cheryl Bilsborrow, whose two-year-old son Hector has Down’s syndrome, to bring forward the case. 

Heidi Crowter, who has the condition and is getting married this summer, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme she is challenging the current law because it is “deeply offensive” and makes her feel “unloved and unwanted”.

Cheryl told the BBC that the current law was “downright discrimination” and disclosed how she felt “pressured to terminate”, saying she was offered an abortion at full term, just three days before giving birth to Hector.

Cheryl recalled a medical professional saying: “You do know we still terminate babies with Down’s syndrome at 38 weeks?.” 

Mothers whose children were born with a cleft lip and palate have recently spoken out in horror that the proposed abortion framework that the Conservative Government is contemplating imposing on Northern Ireland will allow babies with the condition to be aborted up to birth.

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland which would also allow abortion for disability up to birth. 

Terri Thomas told Right To Life UK: “To read that some people [in Northern Ireland] may now consider a termination simply because of a cleft lip or palate is so upsetting”.

Another mother, with a similar experience to Terri, was distraught and heart-broken when she heard that the proposed change in the law would mean that unborn babies could be aborted just because they had a cleft lip and palate. 

Over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter urging the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to introduce abortion up to birth for babies with the condition in Northern Ireland.

The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law on disability so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. However, the Government has decided to ignore this recommendation.

The Disability Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) has said that this aspect of the Abortion Act “is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability…[and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.

The 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability found the vast majority of those who gave evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 and that it affects wider public attitudes towards discrimination. The Inquiry recommended Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and should consider repealing section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act which allows for it.

Disabled peer Lord Shinkwin has previously had a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but unfortunately ran out of time. Lord Shinkwin’s Bill was supported by Disability Rights UK.

Woman with Down’s syndrome takes UK Govt to court over allowing abortion up to birth for disabilities

Heidi and her legal team have set up a CrowdJustice crowdfunding page to help raise the initial £20,000 to start legal proceedings, pay for legal advice and begin the preparation of the case. To make a contribution to the case visit: www.crowdjustice.com/case/downrightdiscrimination/
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A 24-year-old woman who has Down’s syndrome has launched a landmark case against the UK Government over the current discriminatory abortion law that singles out babies with disabilities allowing abortion right through to birth for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

Heidi Crowter has joined with Cheryl Bilsborrow from Preston, whose two-year-old son Hector has Down’s syndrome, to bring forward the case.

Currently, abortion is available up to birth in England, Wales and Scotland if the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot whereas if the baby does not have a condition, there is a 24-week time limit.

The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law on disability so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. However, the Government has decided to ignore this recommendation.

The Disability Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) have said that this aspect of the Abortion Act “is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability…[and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.

The 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability found the vast majority of those who gave evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 and that it affects wider public attitudes towards discrimination. The Inquiry recommended Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and should consider repealing section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act which allows for it.

Disabled peer Lord Shinkwin has previously had a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but unfortunately ran out of time. Lord Shinkwin’s Bill was supported by Disability Rights UK.

Boris Johnson Government is currently deciding on the abortion framework that they will introduce to Northern Ireland ahead of March 31st. The proposed framework that the Northern Ireland Office has consulted on would allow abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. 1875 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not introduced to Northern Ireland.

Polling has shown that the majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland feel that disability should not be a grounds for abortion at all, with only one in three people thinking it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability.

There were 3,269 disability-selective abortions in 2018 and 618 of these were for Down’s syndrome. This represents a 42% increase in abortion for Down’s syndrome in the last ten years with figures rising from 436 in 2008.

Mothers whose children were born with a cleft lip and palate have recently spoken out in horror against the current law in England, Wales and Scotland and that the proposed abortion framework that the Conservative Government is contemplating imposing on Northern Ireland will allow babies with the condition to be aborted up to birth.

In England and Wales, the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has accelerated in recent years.

Official figures show that the number of terminations for those with the condition has more than tripled, from 4 in 2012 to an all-time high of 15 in 2018.

Since 2011, 75 unborn babies have been aborted because they had a cleft lip and palate.

However, findings from a European register have revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported.

Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies, with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. The Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions.

Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down’s Syndrome was nearly double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.

The discovery suggests that the number of unborn babies being aborted because of a perceived disability is significantly higher than what is being reported.

The Department of Health confirmed in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.

Heidi and her legal team have set up a CrowdJustice crowdfunding page to help raise the initial £20,000 to start legal proceedings, pay for legal advice and begin the preparation of the case. To make a contribution to the case visit: www.crowdjustice.com/case/downrightdiscrimination/

Heidi Crowter, from Coventry, who has Down’s syndrome 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! 

“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently said that the United Kingdom should change its abortion law to make sure that people like me aren’t singled out because of our disabilities. 

“Sadly, the Government decided to ignore their recommendations and didn’t change the law. So now, 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.”

Paul Conrathe, the claimant’s solicitor from Sinclairslaw, said:

“This case addresses a matter that is fundamentally offensive and discriminatory- that unborn babies with a disability, and in this case Down’s syndrome, should be aborted up to birth. The current law reinforces negative stereotypes and attributes lesser value and dignity to people with disability. 

“In bringing this landmark case the claimants seek judicial ruling that the Abortion Act 1967 impermissibly violates the dignity of people with disabilities.“ 

Lynn Murray, a 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.”

Boy bullied over dwarfism should have been aborted, social media ‘trolls’ say

A nine-year-old boy with dwarfism has been inundated with messages of support after his mother shared a video of his deep distress over being bullied.

However, a number of social media ‘trolls’ have responded by stating that the condition can be detected in the womb and his parents should have aborted him. 

“This is what bullying does,” said Yarraka Bayles as she filmed her son, Quaden, crying in the car after she picked him up from school on Wednesday. 

The schoolboy, who has achondroplasia – the most common type of dwarfism, told his mother “Give me a rope, I want to kill myself.”

The clip has been viewed tens of millions of times and has triggered an outpouring of support and #WeStandWithQuaden messages, including from celebrities such as actor Hugh Jackman.

Sadly, not all messages have been supportive.

A number of now-deleted social media messages can be summarised by the following tweet, in which one user said “dwarfism can be detected in the 3rd trimester. If the parents aborted him, like they should have done, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Upon being asked whether he was being serious, the Twitter user responded: “It’s crazy that people allow their children to be born with disabilities. Down’s syndrome can be detected too and yet parents still choose to go through with the pregnancy.”

These views are tragically reminiscent of those shared by prominent author and scientist Richard Dawkins and many of those who say they are ‘pro-choice’.

In response to a woman who had tweeted the admission: “I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down syndrome,” Dawkins replied “Abort it and try again.”

“It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice,” he added.

While shocking, these views are echoed through wider society.

In England & Wales, abortion is routinely offered to parents that are expecting a baby who has the most common form of dwarfism known as osteochondrodysplasia are routinely offered terminations and many go onto to abort the babies.

Similarly, government statistics show that where Down’s syndrome has been discovered in the womb over 90% of women choose to abort the child.

Furthermore, the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has accelerated in recent years – abortions for other disabilities are not released by the Government in published statistics.

Official figures show that the number of terminations for those with the condition has more than tripled, from 4 in 2012 to an all-time high of 15 in 2018.

Since 2011, 75 unborn babies have been aborted because they had a cleft lip and palate.

However, findings from a European register have revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported.

Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies, with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. The Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions.

Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down’s Syndrome was nearly double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.

In the UK, there is also inequality in abortion law which permits abortion up to birth for babies diagnosed with a disability and 24 weeks gestation for those without.

This could also be the case in Northern Ireland, where the Conservative Government’s proposed abortion framework will allow babies with disabilities to be aborted up to birth.

A spokesperson from Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Why are persons with cleft lip, club foot, Down’s syndrome, dwarfism and other disabilities bullied and ‘screened out’ instead of accepted by society? What message is conveyed to society when babies with these conditions are aborted?

#WeStandWithQuaden as a society we should be empowering those with disabilities, and take pride in the positive contribution they make to our country.

The Conservative Government, however, undermine this objective by indicating they plan to introduce abortions solely based on the unborn child being diagnosed with a disability up to birth in Northern Ireland.

To ensure that those born with disabilities feel valued members of British society, we urge the UK Government to reverse their plans to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in Northern Ireland.”