Sunday, 28 November, 2021
HomeMedico-LegalChallenge to UK law on abortion of Down’s syndrome foetuses fails

Challenge to UK law on abortion of Down’s syndrome foetuses fails

A woman with Down's syndrome has lost her UK High Court challenge to the law that allows abortion up to birth for a foetus with the condition, arguing that it was “unlawfully discriminatory and stigmatising”.

Heidi Crowter (26), from Coventry, brought the case against the government in July, saying the legislation did not respect her life. According to the BBC, her legal team had argued the rules were unlawfully discriminatory.

They argued that allowing pregnancy terminations up to birth if the foetus has Down’s syndrome is discriminatory and stigmatises disabled people.

The government maintained there was no evidence the law discriminated against Down's.

As two senior judges dismissed the case earlier, Crowter said she would appeal against the judgment, adding, "the fight is not over".

Under current legislation for England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit for abortion, unless "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped", which includes Down's syndrome.

The judges found that section of the Abortion Act was not unlawful, and it aimed to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.

Crowter, who is married and campaigns under her maiden name, said: "We face discrimination every day in schools, in the work place and in society. And now thanks to this verdict the judges have upheld discrimination in the womb too."

The judges said: "The issues which have given rise to this claim are highly sensitive and sometimes controversial. This court cannot enter into those controversies; it must decide the case only in accordance with the law."

They said they had heard evidence showing some families would "positively wish to have a child" even knowing it would be born with severe disabilities.

But they said there was also clear evidence not every family would react the same way and the ability to provide for a disabled child would "vary significantly". They added while scientific developments had improved, some conditions would only be found late in a pregnancy, after 24 weeks, reported the BBC.

The judges concluded the legislation was a matter for Parliament "which can take account of different interests and viewpoints, rather than in litigation".

Crowter's lawyers had claimed the legislation was unlawfully discriminatory as it was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

But at the hearing in July, the government said not only was there was no evidence of discrimination, provisions were in place to discourage it.

Crowter said the law was offensive, and she wanted to challenge people's perception of Down's syndrome so that they saw "just a normal person". She also said her stance was not a campaign against women's right to choose.

Crowter brought the case with another two parties – a child who has Down's, identified in the proceedings only as A, and Máire Lea-Wilson, 33, from London, whose son Aidan has the condition.

Lea-Wilson said she had two boys and felt the judgment "effectively says that my two sons are not viewed as equals in the eyes of the law".

"Equality should be for everyone regardless of the number of chromosomes they have," she said.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service told the BBC there was "a relatively small number of abortions every year" taking place after 24 weeks.

 

BBC article – Woman with Down's loses abortion law fight (Open access)

Crowter-v-SSHSC-judgment-230921

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Down's syndrome takes centre stage in US abortion debate

 

Baby survives birth with heart outside body

 

Appeal Court ends Obs-Gynae’s 8-year ordeal over undiagnosed Down’s

 

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