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 23-month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law.
Ms Lea-Wilson was placed under pressure to have an abortion when a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down’s syndrome.
Ms Crowter and her team have already crowdfunded over £80,000 for the case.
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 3,183 disability-selective abortions across England and Wales in 2019, with 656 of those occurring following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. However, the actual figures are likely to be much higher, with underreporting confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health review.
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 made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. The Government has decided to ignore this recommendation.
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”.
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 proposed a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but ran out of time.
Boris Johnson’s Government introduced new abortion regulations to Northern Ireland last March. The regulations that the Northern Ireland Office introduced allow abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.
DUP MLA Paul Givan’s Bill passed its first reading on 15th March in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill seeks to amend the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020 to no longer allow unborn babies with a ‘serious fetal impairment’ (SFI) to be aborted to term.
Ms Crowter and her legal team have set up a CrowdJustice crowdfunding page to help raise funds for legal proceedings, pay for legal advice and prepare for the case. To find out more and to make a contribution to the case see: www.crowdjustice.com/case/downrightdiscrimination/
Picture: Heidi Crowter. (Don’t Screen Us Out).