Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Court of Appeal rules to uphold law which allows abortion of disabled babies up until birth

Picture credit: Don’t Screen Us Out

Heidi Crowter, a 27-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, has lost her case against the Court of Appeal, which challenged the law surrounding the abortion of disabled foetuses.

Under the current law, babies with disabilities can be aborted up until birth. However, for typical pregnancies, there is a 24-week limit.

Ms Crowter, along with 33-year-old Máire Lea-Wilson (whose son has Down’s syndrome), say this law is “discriminatory”, and have been campaigning to get it changed for the past six years.

The Act ‘does not interfere’ with the rights of disabled people

In a summary of the decision, by Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, the judges said the Act is not unlawful and does not interfere with the rights of disabled people.

They said: “The court recognises that many people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities will be upset and offended by the fact that a diagnosis of serious disability during pregnancy is treated by the law as a justification for termination, and that they may regard it as implying that their own lives are of lesser value.

“But it holds that a perception that that is what the law implies is not by itself enough to give rise to an interference with article 8 rights [to private and family life, enshrined in the European convention on human rights].”

Judges urged to meet people with Down’s syndrome

Following the ruling, Ms Crowter told Sky News she was “absolutely distraught”, but she was determined to keep fighting.

She said: “We face discrimination every day in schools, in the workplace and thanks to this verdict, the judges have upheld discrimination in the womb to which is downright discrimination.

“When Wilberforce wanted to abolish the slave trade, he didn’t give up when things didn’t go his way. I won’t give up either because the law should be changed to get rid of a negative focus on Down’s syndrome – even the words used in it are offensive.

“This law was made in 1967 when we were not even allowed to go to school because of our extra chromosome, so I think it’s time that the judges move with the times and actually meet people with Down’s syndrome and see the people behind the chromosome.”

Heidi plans to take the case the Supreme Court

Heidi now plans to take the case to the Supreme Court. Paul Conrathe, the claimant’s solicitor from Sinclairslaw, has said he will continue to support Heidi and Máire in their battle for justice.

He said: “The conclusions of the Court are all the more surprising as Mencap, the leading UK disability charity, had informed the Court that UK abortion law conveyed ‘the powerful message that a life with a disability is a lesser life, even a life not worth living. It should have no place in a modern inclusive society that values all people’. Similarly, the UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities recommended that the UK change its abortion law so that it does not stigmatise those with disabilities as having a life of lesser value.

“By failing to give legal recognition to the suffering and stigmatisation that people with disabilities feel about a law which singles them out for termination in the womb, the Court has further diminished a fragile voice for equal value. Yet again their perceptions are disregarded. My clients are resolute in their fight for the legal recognition of the equal value of people with disabilities and will appeal to the Supreme Court to see this anachronistic and outdated legislation changed.”

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