Learning Disability Today
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Liam Fox pushes for amendment on late abortion for Down’s syndrome

Sir Liam Fox, the MP behind the Down Syndrome Act 2022, has tabled an amendment to the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill intended to specifically exclude a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome as a reason for late abortion.

The former NHS Doctor and GP says he wants to to address discriminatory practices associated with Down’s syndrome, which would introduce an upper gestational limit for abortions of foetuses with Down’s syndrome equal to the upper gestational limit for most other abortions.

If successful, this change could mean that pregnant women will not be offered abortions at the later stages of pregnancy on the basis that the baby has Down’s syndrome.

Current legislation generally restricts abortion after 24 weeks gestation unless the baby has a disability such as Down’s syndrome or another congenital condition in which case abortion is legal up to birth.

Pregnancy screening typically takes place well before 24 weeks gestation yet some women who find out during pregnancy screening that their baby will have Down’s syndrome and who choose to continue with their pregnancy report that they are offered abortion until the point that their baby is due to be born.

Down’s syndrome group welcomes amendment

The amendment was welcomed by the National Down Syndrome Policy Group (NDSPG) who said that it was essential to reconsider outdated and discriminatory laws that permit the termination of pregnancies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome until birth, based solely on a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.

Heidi Crowter, founding member of the NDSPG added: “I support this amendment in this law that Dr Liam Fox is suggesting because I am a young lady with Down syndrome and I want people with Down syndrome to be shown in a positive light.

“I have been fighting for a change to this law for 4 years now because we are now treated equally after birth so we should be treated equally before birth too. This is so important to me because when I was growing up my parents always treated me the same so it was a shock to me when I found out that we are not treated the same in the womb.

“This law was made in 1967 when people with Down syndrome were put in institutions and we couldn’t even go to school all because of our extra chromosome. The world has moved on and the law should too.”

In 2020 Heidi took the UK Government to court in a challenge to the law allowing abortion for disability stating that the law is discriminatory and undermines the value of people with Down’s syndrome’s lives. A judge ruled against her case stating that it was for the lawmakers to decide, not the judiciary.

Prime Minister refuses to back amendment

When asked by Liam Fox to support the amendment during Prime Minister’s Questions, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it had “been longstanding convention that it would be for Parliament to decide whether to make any changes to the law on abortion and these issues have always been treated as an individual matter of conscience.”

This indicates that any Commons vote should be a “free” one, independent of party affiliation.

Sir Liam Fox said: “On average, 25 babies with Down syndrome are aborted each year between 24 and 40 weeks. This is an absolute travesty.

“People with Down syndrome are not second-class citizens. Through the Down Syndrome Act 2022, we have already passed landmark legislation with both cross-party and government support. The Act made England the first country in the world to legislate specifically for people with Down syndrome, and the guidelines of the Act are currently being written to improve the educational, healthcare, and social care provisions for those with Down syndrome.

“The current law around the termination of a pregnancy for a foetus with Down syndrome is contradictory to the aims and values of the Equality Act 2010. Indeed, the Equality Act clearly defines discrimination as when “A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.” By definition, under the Abortion Act, a baby with Down syndrome is therefore not given the same chance of life as a baby without Down syndrome.”


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