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Woman with Down’s syndrome’s case against UK Govt over discriminatory abortion law to be heard by High Court in July

A landmark case against the UK Government over the current discriminatory abortion law that allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome will be heard at the High Court on 6th July. Heidi Crowter, a 25-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose twenty-three-month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law. 

“Intense pressure to abort”

Currently in England, Wales, and Scotland, there is a general 24-week time limit for abortion, but if the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, and club foot, abortion is legal right up to birth.

Latest figures show that around 90% of babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted.

Ms Lea-Wilson has spoken frequently about how she was “placed under intense pressure” to have an abortion after a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down’s syndrome.

Alongside today’s announcement of the forthcoming hearing, she added: “I have two sons that I love and value equally, but the law does not value them equally. This is wrong and so we want to try and change that…We proclaim that we live in a society that values those with disabilities, that everyone deserves a fair and equal chance at life, regardless of their ability status. This law undermines that narrative, does it really have a place in 2021?”

“Offensive and discriminatory”

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries that 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 also made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. 

The Disability Rights Commission (subsumed into the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007) 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”.

A 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability also 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.

Standing up for equality

In a press release announcing the High Court hearing, Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out and mother of Rachel who has Down’s syndrome, stated: “By stating that disability is grounds for termination, section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act promotes inequality. The provision in the Abortion Act harks back to a time when we thought it was better for people with disabilities not to be part of our society. We’re a far more progressive society now, we realise that diversity is healthy, and all of our laws should reflect that”.

Mrs Crowter said: “People like me are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped’, but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date…People shouldn’t be treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s downright discrimination”.

Ms Lea-Wilson added: “I am thrilled to hear that the case will be heard in court on the 6th and 7th July, and I hope that this will be the time that we all stand up for equality”.

Widespread popular and political support

Last March, the UK Government introduced new abortion regulations to Northern Ireland. The regulations allow abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, and club foot. 1,875 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.

In February this year, Northern Irish MLA Paul Givan introduced the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ Campaign. It has since received a huge level of support with 1,608 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signing an open letter to the Assembly urging them to vote in favour of the bill. Almost 28,500 members of the general public have also signed a petition in support of the Bill, which proposes to amend the aspect of the 2020 Regulations that allows abortion up until birth for babies with disabilities.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “As Heidi and Máire have tragically highlighted, the current law – which allows abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities but does not permit abortion past 24 weeks for babies without disabilities – does tell people with disabilities that they are valued less than people without disabilities”.
“There is simply no place for such abhorrent legal discrimination in 21st century Britain. We hope the High Court will rule in favour of equality and justice, while also taking into account the majority of the public’s disapproval of the current discriminatory law”.

Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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Dear reader

In 2020, the UK Government imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which included a provision that legalised abortion right up to birth for disabilties including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

A new Bill has been launched at the Northern Ireland assembly that will remove the current provision that allows abortion for ‘severe fetal impairment’.

It is under these grounds in the regulations that babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can currently be singled out for abortion in Northern Ireland because of their disability and can be aborted right up to birth.

Before the new abortion regime was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, disability-selective abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot was not legal and there was a culture of welcoming and supporting people with these disabilities 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 Northern Ireland, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. 

This contrasts with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom where disability-selective abortion has been legal since 1967.

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

We are, therefore, asking people like you to take 30 seconds of your time and add your support to the campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.

If you live in Northern Ireland: 
Ask your MLAs to vote to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot:

If you live outside Northern Ireland: 
Show your support by signing this petition in support of the Bill:

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