A landmark case against the UK Government over the current law that allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome has begun.
Heidi Crowter, a 26-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose two-year-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law.
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.
There were 3,083 disability-selective abortions in 2020. 693 of these abortions were due to babies with Down’s syndrome, an increase of 5.64% from 656 in 2019.
It is thought that the actual figures are likely to be much higher – a 2013 review showed 886 fetuses were aborted for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in Department of Health records. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health review.
Abortion Act reinforces negative stereotypes of disability
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”.
Heidi and her legal team set up a CrowdJustice crowdfunding page to help raise funds for legal proceedings, pay for legal advice and prepare for the case.
Heidi said: “The law says that babies shouldn’t be aborted up to birth, but if a baby is found to have Down’s syndrome, it can be aborted up until birth. This is the current law in the UK and I think it’s not fair.
"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like me are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped’, but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date.
"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 but the Government hasn’t changed the law.
"So, last year, me and other members of the Down’s syndrome community set out to get rid of the clause in the law, and now our case will soon be heard in the High Court. I hope we win. People shouldn’t be treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s downright discrimination.”