Mother of baby with Down’s syndrome joins landmark case against discriminatory abortion law

The mother of a baby with Down’s syndrome is challenging the UK Government’s discriminatory abortion law which singles out babies with disabilities allowing abortion right through to birth – even for including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Máire Lea-Wilson, whose eleven month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, says she was encouraged in hospital to abort her son when a scan at 34-weeks revealed he had the condition.

The mother has joined forces with Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, to bring forward the landmark case against the UK Government.

Recalling her experience, Máire said: “I felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby.”

Earlier this week, she told Sky News: “I have two sons and I love and value them equally and I think it seems really wrong that the law doesn’t value them equally.”

Heidi Crowter added: “It’s downright discrimination”.

Their case is being presented by solicitor Paul Conrathe of Sinclairslaw, who will lodge papers at the High Court this week.

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.

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

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion on the basis of disability. 

The 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. The Government continues 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 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’s Government has recently introduced new abortion regulations to Northern Ireland. The regulation that the Northern Ireland Office introduced allow abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

Over 1,800 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome was 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.

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.”

Máire said: “I have two sons and I love and value them equally and I think it just seems wrong that the law doesn’t value them equally and we want to change that.

“I love and value them equally, so I don’t see why they are not valued equally by the law.

“Once it was thought the baby had Down’s syndrome, the first thing they wanted to talk about was whether we wanted to terminate the pregnancy, and I was 34 weeks pregnant, so it was quite a difficult question to get asked at a time when I was scared and vulnerable.

“It is really tough to think back on that, I find it really 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’ll be seen the same or treated the same.

“I felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby. 

“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 disability the legal limit is 24 weeks, but you can have an abortion right up to full term with a child that does have a disability. That just feels wrong.

“I also really worry that when he’s 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. I would not change him for the world.

“He’s had some challenges and done so well so we’re just really proud of him.”

Sally Phillips, actress, comedian and mother to Ollie who has Down’s syndrome 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.”

A spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, Lynn Murray 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.”

Winning hearts and minds around the world: Heidi Crowter featured in Australian media

The fight of a 24-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome against the UK’s discriminatory abortion law continues to receive international attention, and was this week featured in Australian media.

Heidi Crowter has launched a landmark case against the UK Government over current legislation that singles out babies with disabilities, allowing abortion right through to birth for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

Last week, she urged the Northern Ireland Assembly to reject the same “hurtful and offensive” laws in Northern Ireland.

Heidi was speaking out against the UK Government’s decision to impose the same discriminatory abortion laws on Northern Ireland, something it was not required to do when it voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on the province last year.

The new regime, which also allows de facto abortion for any reason up to 24-weeks, came into force on 31 March.

In response to the Government’s actions, Heidi Crowter has written to politicians in Northern Ireland saying:

“Boris Johnson’s Government did not have to introduce abortion for babies with Down’s syndrome up to birth to Northern Ireland. They chose to do this.

“That’s both hurtful and offensive. My life has as much value as anyone else’s.

“I am asking all MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) to reject Westminster’s regulations – please don’t vote for more discrimination against people like me.

“Do not make the mistake which was made in Great Britain in allowing discrimination against people like me just because we happen to have Down’s syndrome.

“Please let Northern Ireland continue to be a country where disabled people are valued.

“Please do not let a law come into practice which will end lives on the basis of disability and stop people like me coming into the world.”

Drawing attention to Hedi’s case, Sky News host Chris Kenny said: “A touching, brave and salient reminder about people living with disabilities has arisen during the current debate about abortion in Northern Ireland.”

He then proceeded to share a channel 5 interview of Heidi, which received over 4 million views, describing it as a “touching and powerful” address.

“Whatever you think of the abortion issue, I wanted to show you that,” he added.

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

She has been joined in her legal fight against disability discrimination by Máire, mother to Aidan who has Down’s syndrome.

Máire said: “I have two incredible sons, and value them equally, so I was shocked to discover that the law doesn’t.”

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

Scottish mothers join growing support for legal challenge to UK’s discriminatory abortion law

Mothers of children born with Down’s syndrome have spoken out in horror over the UK’s discriminatory law, which singles out babies with the condition and allows abortion up to birth.

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. This is compared to a 24 week time limit for babies without a disability. 

Thousands of people are now supporting Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down’s syndrome, as she launches a legal challenge against the UK Government to prevent them from singling out disabled babies for abortion.

Stacey Corrigan, mother to six-year-old Daniel who has Down’s syndrome, told the Daily Record she is “horrified” at the current abortion law.

She said: “How can that be legal? It’s like murder…

“There are premature babies who are born at 25 weeks and survive and grow to be healthy and happy, yet if your baby has Down’s syndrome it’s ok to terminate immediately before giving birth. It is just wrong.”

Stacey and her fiancé Colin Murray say Daniel is the best thing to ever happen to them and are supporting Heidi Crowter’s legal challenge.

Stacey added: “Daniel is an amazing wee boy. He goes to school, loves all the same things every other kid loves, he’s happy and funny. To think that someone could be in a position where they have carried a child like Daniel and are offered the chance to terminate so far on is just horrifying.”

Brenda Cook, whose 12-year-old daughter Brooke Cormack-Cook has the condition, says the law is archaic and needs to change immediately.

She said: “I think it’s quite shocking. There are some disabilities which aren’t visible or don’t get diagnosed until the child is older, so where do you draw the line? It’s something you would expect from the fifties or sixties. It’s out of date and it needs to be changed.

“Brooke is a wonderful wee girl. She loves life and is the centre of my world. I find it totally offensive as the mother of a child with Down’s syndrome that this is still legal. It’s disgusting and cruel to suggest that our children are not good enough for this earth.”

Máire Brady, mother to nine-month-old Aidan who has Down’s syndrome, says the “the law is not fit for purpose; worse than that, it is discriminatory, inflammatory and barbaric.”

In a blog post addressed to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, she adds: “By not addressing this issue [the discriminatory abortion law] properly, you are saying my beautiful baby boy, Aidan, is worth less than his brother. That he is not as valuable. By shutting down debate under the guise of women’s choices, you are taking away the voice of people like my son, and you are disenfranchising them.

“Giving him equal rights to his brother is not eroding women’s choices, it’s just giving him equal rights. He is Aidan and he is equally worthy. For these reasons, I’m with Heidi.”

Heidi’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 3,500,000 people have watched Heidi tell Channel 5 the current law is “deeply offensive” and many more have seen her tell the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that the current law makes her feel “unloved and unwanted”.

Heidi’s campaign has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media with people adding #ImWithHeidi to their posts.

In less than a week, over £20,000 has been raised to help towards the cost of her legal fees.

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.”