Campaigner with Down syndrome loses bid to change abortion law

Agence France-Presse
Campaigner with Down syndrome loses bid to change abortion law
A vendor sells pro-choice and feminist buttons during the "Seattle Defends Abortion Rights!" rally and march, part of a Women's March Weekend of Action, in Seattle, Washington on Oct. 8, 2022.
AFP / Jason Redmond

LONDRES, United Kingdom — A British woman with Down syndrome on Friday lost a court bid to change a law that allows the abortion of unborn babies with the condition up to full term.

The case is part of a campaign by a group called "Don't Screen Us Out" that fights negative stereotypes about people with Down syndrome and calls for them to have an "equal chance to be born".

Down syndrome is a genetic condition where babies are born with an extra chromosome, resulting in varying levels of learning and physical disability. 

A screening test for the condition is available during pregnancy.

Heidi Crowter, 27, had taken her case against the UK government to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the law on abortion was an instance of inequality.

The law allows abortion of unborn babies without disabilities until 24 weeks in England, Scotland and Wales.

It also allows abortion up to birth in cases where there is a "substantial risk" of the child being "seriously handicapped".

In socially conservative Northern Ireland, abortion is allowed up to 12 weeks. It also has a provision for terminations up to full term in cases of serious disability.

Three appeal court judges dismissed a challenge to a lower court ruling that the legislation was not unlawful.

They said in a summary of their decision that the Abortion Act does not affect the rights of the "living disabled".

They said the court recognised that many with Down 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".

But they said this did not justify interfering with the right to private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, frequently cited in legal cases involving abortion.

Crowter told Sky News after the hearing, "My first reaction was that I was absolutely distraught and the reason why is they said my views don't matter."

"It makes me feel that I shouldn't be here, that I should be extinct. I know that's not true but it's how it makes me feel."

She and her legal team vowed to take their case to the UK Supreme Court.

Crowter brought the case with another woman, Maire Lea-Wilson, whose son has Down syndrome. Lea-Wilson says she was pressured, when pregnant, to seek a termination.

The campaign by "Don't Screen Us Out" is critical of the roll-out of a new, more accurate and less invasive test for the syndrome. 

They believe it may be leading to "an increase in the numbers of children with Down's syndrome being screened out by termination".


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