Over 20,000 people are urging bosses at ITV soap Emmerdale to cancel a forthcoming storyline in which a couple will decide to have an abortion after they are told their baby has Down Syndrome.
The soap was slammed after reports revealed that onscreen couple Laurel Thomas (played by Charlotte Bellamy) and Jai Sharma (Chris Bisson) will abort their unborn baby after receiving a Down Syndrome diagnosis, with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) warning that such a plotline risks promoting eugenic abortion.
Reports revealing the forthcoming storyline have also resulted in over 20,000 people signing a change.org petition urging Emmerdale bosses to ‘bin’ the ‘prejudiced storyline’.
Titled ‘Bin Emmerdale’s Prejudiced Storyline About Down’s Syndrome’, the petition brands the storyline ‘absolutely disgusting’ and warns that it ‘violates the human rights of people with Down’s Syndrome’.
‘It has shaken me to the core that a popular TV show watched by millions has sought to perpetuate the antiquated stereotyping, embedded and, often unconscious, prejudice combined with misleading information about Down’s Syndrome that is endemic in our society,’ writes Rachel Mewes, who started the petition.
Questioning whether ITV had consulted the Down Syndrome community when researching for the storyline, Ms Mewes, the mother of Betsy, a three-year-old child with Down Syndrome, explains in the petition that for her the storyline highlights issues surrounding the lack of a care pathway for women expecting a child with Down Syndrome.
‘How many families who have a child with Down’s Syndrome did ITV consult with? Or was it just families who have had an abortion?’ she writes.
‘Did ITV consult with people who have Down’s Syndrome? Promoting abortion of babies with Down’s Syndrome through this storyline is absolutely disgusting and violates the human rights of people with Down’s Syndrome and their families who should not be expected to have to put up with such prejudice in mainstream media that suggests themselves, or their child would be better off dead.
‘I think what this highlights for me is the consequences for so many families of there being no NHS pathway for expectant women who have had a high chance or positive result of their baby having Down’s Syndrome,’ Ms Mewes continues. ‘The pathway that information and guidance on how to provide antenatal care for these women is embedded in a Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality pathway provided by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. If you look closely at the pathway you will see that Jane Fisher, of ARC, was involved in writing it. And this is the ‘non-biased’ charity ITV have sought to inform their storyline?’
Speaking of her own experiences as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, Ms Mewes describes her daughter as ‘my absolute world’.
‘I also had an antenatal diagnosis. The difference is that I already knew what Down’s Syndrome was. I have spent my career working with children with learning disabilities and know the reality of the condition,’ she writes. ‘I was truly informed and therefore did not have that embedded fear and prejudice of the condition. I also knew how much support I would have from the team of people who would surround Betsy to help her achieve.
‘My decision was informed by true, lived experience of knowing and working with people who have Down’s Syndrome. This experience is not something disseminated by medical professionals and is hard to demonstrate. A lifetime spent around people with Down’s Syndrome, which is a natural part of the human race, teaches you how every single person has value.’
Concluding her message, Ms Mewes accuses Emmerdale of being ‘irresponsible, ignorant and prejudiced’ in relation to the storyline and urges for it to be scrapped.
‘I ask ITV to please bin this storyline. For the sakes of the parents who will be misled by this ableism. For the sake of people with Down’s Syndrome who should not have to put up with this prejudice. And for the sake of my daughter who has to grow up in a world that you are showing believes she will be better off dead.’
As reported by The Catholic Universe, Michael Robinson, SPUC’s Director of Communications, strongly criticised the storyline.
“This storyline in Emmerdale risks promoting eugenic abortion which is a barbaric form of discrimination against disabled people,” he said.
“TV soaps carry a huge responsibility as they have the ability to shape public opinion and attitude. It would be encouraging for these shows to depict pregnancy in a positive way.
“It would have been fantastic for Emmerdale to feature an empowering and inclusive storyline which valued this unborn baby and helped remove the stigma which surrounds disability.”
To sign Ms Mewes’ petition, see: https://www.change.org/p/itv-bin-emmerdale-s-prejudiced-storyline-about-down-s-syndrome?
Picture: Emmerdale logo. (ITV).