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Girl with Down syndrome fights UK law that lets you abort fetuses with disabilities up to birth

A person's choice to abort is their own. However, 24-year-old Heidi Crowter believes you shouldn't be allowed to abort a fetus simply because it has a disability.

Girl with Down syndrome fights UK law that lets you abort fetuses with disabilities up to birth
Image Source: Heidi Crowter - Living the Dream / Facebook

In the United Kingdom, abortion is freely available to those who need it. Abortions do not constitute a criminal offense - even if the procedure is completed because the fetus has a disability. As you would assume, this leads to "selective abortion," wherein a parent is able to choose whether or not they want a baby with a disability. This has been viewed as "deeply offensive" and discriminatory by Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old disability activist with Down syndrome. In collaboration with Cheryl Bilsborrow, the mother of a two-year-old boy who also has Down syndrome, Crowter is taking the British government to court, the BBC reports.



The law, within the UK's 1967 Abortion Act, permits individuals to abort a fetus with a disability up to birth. Unlike "standard" pregnancies that are subject to a 24-week limit on abortions, once a parent has discovered their fetus has a disability, no matter how far into the pregnancy they are, they are legally permitted to terminate the pregnancy. This, Crowter and Bilsborrow believe, is an ableist way to regulate abortion. Writing to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the campaigners demanded that all pregnancies, even those which may result in a disabled baby, should be subject to the same laws. This will ensure parents aren't selectively aborting fetuses.



At present, about 40,000 individuals in the European country live with Down syndrome, according to The Down's Syndrome Association in the UK. While this means only about 0.6 percent of the country's total population has the disability, they are still valuable members of society. Crowter, who was born with an extra chromosome that causes the disability, said the law made her feel "unloved and unwanted" in an interview with the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire program. Her life, she affirmed, was just as valuable as anybody else's - with or without a disability. Her mother Liz Crowter has also called for the law to be updated. She stated, "[The law should recognize] all babies in the womb are treated the same."



Similarly, Bilsborrow claimed the present law was "downright discrimination." As an older mother, she said she felt pressured into taking a test to find out if her baby would likely have Down syndrome. When the test determined her baby would have the condition, she felt "pressured to terminate" her pregnancy. The mother was offered an abortion even though she had carried her pregnancy to term; she gave birth to her son Hector three days after she was offered an abortion. She said she was asked by a medical professional, "You do know we still terminate babies with Down's syndrome at 38 weeks?" "I was completely blown away, shocked, and disgusted," Bilsborrow stated. "All babies and children should be treated [equally]." The mother described her son Hector as "gorgeous" and loved.



In response to the criticism, The Department of Health and Social Care informed the BBC, "Any decision to terminate must rest on the judgment of the [parent] and [their] doctors. Only when two doctors both agree there is a risk a child will be born with a serious abnormality can an abortion take place outside the 24-week limit." Nonetheless, Bilsborrow and Crowter are pushing for the 24-week abortion limit to be extended to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down syndrome. While pro-choice advocacy groups have argued that this would limit someone's right to choose, Crowter suggested that "most disabilities would be found before 24 weeks." She urged those unconvinced about extending the limit to "meet someone with Down syndrome, and really get to know them." "Don't be scared," she insisted. "See that there's a person behind [the extra] chromosome."



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