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Woman with Down syndrome challenges law that allows abortion up to birth if fetus has Down syndrome

Heidi Crowter along with Máire Lea-Wilson and her son Aidan, are challenging the Abortion Act 1967 that allows the abortion of a fetus up to birth if it has Down syndrome.

Woman with Down syndrome challenges law that allows abortion up to birth if fetus has Down syndrome
Image Source: YouTube/The Independent

A 26-year-old woman with Down syndrome is challenging the UK government's law which allows the abortion of a fetus up to birth if it has Down syndrome. Heidi Crowter has said that she “won’t stand” for “discrimination” against people with disabilities. She is one of three claimants taking the government to court, specifically taking legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care. The other two claimants are Máire Lea-Wilson, 33, and her son Aidan, who has Down syndrome. They are hoping to get a section of the Abortion Act 1967 they believe to be an “instance of inequality” removed, reported Evening Standard.  



"Two of the claimants are in the minority of fetuses who were diagnosed with the condition and not aborted and they live happy and fulfilling lives, as evidence shows the majority of people with Down syndrome do," Jason Coppal QC, the claimants' barrister, told the High Court told the court. He also stated that the current law is based on "stereotypes and demeans." The law states that terminations can be performed well beyond the general 24-week time limit window if 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." This includes Down syndrome.



"I am someone who has Down syndrome and I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn't respect my life, and I won't stand for it," Crowter told BBC. "I want to change the law and I want to challenge people's perception of Down syndrome. I want them to look at me and say 'this is just a normal person.'" Lea-Wilson has also joined the cause because she does not want her son who has Down syndrome to think that he is a burden to society. "I have two sons who I love and I value equally and I can't understand why the law doesn't," she said and added that her son "is a wonderful human being in his own right."



Lea-Wilson, who works as an accountant said she found out that her baby had Down syndrome 34 weeks into her pregnancy. "I was asked if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy, in the context of a lot of medically biased information, and my own grief, three times," she said. "The last time I was asked to terminate the pregnancy was two days before he was born." She described the experience of being asked to terminate her pregnancy repetitively as traumatic. " The pressure wasn’t explicit – we were never told that is what we should do – but it was very much implied and it almost felt like we were going against medical advice by continuing the pregnancy," she recalled.



She explained how they were told how terrible Down syndrome was, "that our lives would be very challenging. And the thing is, my experience isn’t unique. I know one woman who was asked to terminate her pregnancy 15 times," Lea-Wilson revealed. Taking her argument further barrister Coppel told Lord Justice Singh and Mrs. Justice Lieven, "The mother of Aidan believes it is morally and ethically wrong to destroy life on the grounds of a disability. But what we will try and establish is that it is legally wrong." When asked about a woman's right to choose Lea-Wilson clarified by saying, "That’s not what the case is about, but I do respect their choice. I just want them to get the right information, and just meet someone who has Down syndrome."


It was also argued that the law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore unlawfully discriminatory. Clare Murphy, from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, stated: "We're talking about a relatively small number of abortions every year that take place after 24 weeks. These are incredibly challenging, heartbreaking circumstances involving often very, very much wanted pregnancies, where women have to make really tough decisions."




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