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

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Disabled peer Lord Shinkwin has previously had a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but unfortunately ran out of time.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

PM urged not to introduce disability abortion up to birth to Northern Ireland, by over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families

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.

Dozens of families who have signed the letter have shared photos of their children with Down’s syndrome on social media to help send a strong message to Boris Johnson.

The letter has been backed by the Don’t Screen Us Out community, a coalition of advocacy groups, who are concerned about the scope of the Northern Ireland regulations and the “devastating impact” it will have on families with Down’s syndrome children.

In England and Wales – where abortion is available up until birth if a baby has a disability – people with disabilities are unjustly and disproportionately targeted by abortion legislation.

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

Northern Ireland currently has a very different approach. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not permitted and there is a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability 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 the same year, only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.

The Conservative Government’s proposed framework for abortion legislation in Northern Ireland’s goes far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland and far beyond what is legally required by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The Government is not required by the Act to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome, or other disabilities such as cleft lip or club foot, to Northern Ireland. Yet, to the dismay Down’s syndrome community, the Conservatives have opted to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in their extreme framework.

Under one of the proposal options being consulted on, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life” (Section 2.3 – page 17). 

In England and Wales, similar wording has in practice allowed abortions for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot right through to birth.

Without a clear provision stating otherwise, under the proposed wording in the Conservatives abortion framework it is likely that disability-selective abortion will be available up to birth.

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that at least 710 late-term abortions (between 20 weeks and birth) for Down’s syndrome have taken place in England and Wales over the last 10 years (2009-2018).

The figures are likely to be much higher – a 2013 review showed 886 babies were aborted in England & Wales in 2010, just because they had Down’s syndrome. However, only 482 were reported in Department of Health records, with the underreporting confirmed in a 2014 Department of Health review.

Lord Shinkwin, an advocate for disability equality, has strongly denounced the Government’s plans to introduce disability-selective abortion to Northern Ireland.

In a debate in the House of Lords surrounding the Government’s attempt to force abortion on Northern Ireland, Lord Shinkwin said that changing the law to allow abortion on such grounds sends a message that people who are born with a disability “are better of dead.”

The letter to Boris Johnson warns him if a provision is put in place to protect babies with Down’s syndrome he will be “directly responsible for introducing a deeply discriminatory law to Northern Ireland that will allow for babies with Down’s syndrome to be chosen for abortion simply because they are found to have the condition.”

It adds: “This seems archaic in a culture where we embrace our differences and no longer treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens.

“We are asking that you ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome, which will have such great consequences for our community, is not introduced to Northern Ireland.

“Boris Johnson, please do the right thing. Don’t screen us out. Ensure that abortion for Down’s syndrome is not introduced to Northern Ireland.”

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

“We are calling on the Government to urgently clarify that they will not introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. All that is required is for the Government to commit to add a simple provision to the abortion framework that will clearly outline that abortion for Down’s syndrome will explicitly not be allowed.

“The Government were not required by Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. Sadly it appears that they have decided to go further than they are required to do by the Act and have opted to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland in their proposed legal framework.

“The proposed framework would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for congenital conditions detected pre-birth in Northern Ireland, and would reduce the numbers of our already very small community. This would have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland.”

Nicola Woods from Belfast, whose 7-year old son Daniel has Down’s syndrome, told the Belfast Telegraph:

“Daniel himself is a delight. He lives in the moment, doesn’t worry about mistakes he made last week or something difficult happening in the future. His joy in the simple things of life has radiated to all those around him.”

“People are deluded if they think this won’t have a negative impact on the Down’s syndrome community here in Northern Ireland when it is the safest place to be diagnosed with a disability.”

“We in Northern Ireland should be left to make our own decisions about abortion law.

“People are keen to advocate for equality once babies are born, but not for the unborn child with a disability. Unborn children with disabilities are most vulnerable before they are born, where screening and abortion is the norm. Northern Ireland protects them and we want it to stay that way.”

Mother offered full-term abortion because her son had Down’s syndrome

A mother has opened up about the consistent pressure she received from doctors to abort her baby son, even at full-term, just because he has Down’s syndrome.

Cheryl Bilsborrow wanted to speak out after figures published last week revealed 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.

Speaking to The Sun about her experience, the clinical reflexologist said: “These tests and the scary, negative way in which the results are currently framed are leading pregnant women to abort their much-wanted babies.”

“My two-year-old son Hector is the most wonderful baby.

“He’s got beautiful white hair and blue eyes, and he is always smiling and laughing, blowing kisses and coming for hugs.

“But when I was pregnant I was made to feel like his life would have no value and that I should abort him. Why? Because he has Down’s Syndrome.”

Cheryl was 43 years old when she fell pregnant with her fourth child. Because of her age, she was encouraged by doctors to have a screening test for Down’s syndrome.

At the screening test, Cheryl discovered there was a high-chance her baby would have the condition, so she, along with husband David, decided to book a £400 NIPT at a private clinic to get a more definitive answer.

The pair received a phone call a short time later from a clinician who said: “Really sorry for the bad news but there’s a 99 per cent chance you are having a baby with Down’s syndrome.”

Cheryl said that from the start the doctors’ perception of the condition was negative and that she was encouraged to have an abortion every time she had a midwife appointment.

“There was no offer of counselling, no discussion about how my life might be enhanced by this baby. Abort and get rid seemed to be the only answer.”

But the pair remained adamant that they wanted to keep the baby.

Cheryl said: “What if the midwife had phoned me and said ‘Please don’t be alarmed. You’re having a baby with Down’s syndrome. We can offer you some counselling and help you meet a family with a child with Down’s syndrome so you can learn more.’

“Instead, they made out it was the worst news in the world.

“Even, at 38 weeks, when I went for a scan, the sonographer said: ’You do know we abort babies full term with Down’s syndrome…’

“The message came loud and clear: babies with Down’s were of no value.

“Now, having had Hector, I know there was nothing to be frightened of…

“It breaks my heart to think that so many babies, like [him], could be robbed of their chance to live happy lives.”     

Down’s syndrome advocates are now calling on 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.

Currently, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome identified in the womb are aborted in England, Wales and Scotland.

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK said:

“Our current law allows babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted right through to birth. Already 90% of babies diagnosed in the womb with Down’s syndrome are aborted in Great Britain. The figures released today show that new non-invasive prenatal tests are likely to lead to even more babies who have Down’s syndrome being aborted.

“The Government should not be rolling out these tests if there is evidence that they are leading to more babies with Down’s syndrome being aborted. Now there is clear evidence that this is the case, it’s time that the Government pulled the rollout.”