Ruling due in High Court challenge over Downs syndrome abortion law

Ruling due in High Court challenge over Down’s syndrome abortion law

At a two-day hearing in July, lawyers representing the claimants argued the law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore unlawfully discriminatory.

A woman with Down’s syndrome will find out if she has succeeded in a High Court challenge against the Government over legislation which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth.

Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, is one of the three claimants who brought legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act they believe to be an “instance of inequality”.

In England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit on having an abortion.

But terminations can be allowed up until birth 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”, which includes Down’s syndrome.

At a two-day hearing in July, lawyers representing the claimants argued the law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore unlawfully discriminatory.

Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven will give their ruling on the case at 10.30am on Thursday.

A demonstration in support of the claimants was held outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the July hearing, during which dozens of people held banners and placards, some of which read “Don’t screen us out” and “Love doesn’t count chromosomes”.

Speaking outside court at the time Ms Crowter told the PA news agency: “I am someone who has Down’s syndrome and I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn’t respect my life, and I won’t stand for it.

“I want to change the law and I want to challenge people’s perception of Down’s syndrome. I want them to look at me and say ‘this is just a normal person’.

“That’s what this is about. It’s about telling people that we’re just humans with feelings.”

Maire Lea-Wilson, 33, an accountant and mother-of-two from west London, whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, is also bringing the case.

She said: “I was 34 weeks pregnant when I discovered Aidan had Down’s syndrome, and 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.

“The last time I was asked to terminate the pregnancy was two days before he was born.”

In arguments before the court, the claimants’ barrister Jason Coppel QC said: “Two of the claimants are in the minority of foetuses 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’s syndrome do.

“The mother of Aidan believes it is morally and ethically wrong to destroy a life on the grounds of a disability. But what we will try and establish is that it is legally wrong.”

Mr Coppel said the current law “stereotypes and demeans”.

The Government said the case should be dismissed on the grounds there is no evidence of a connection between the law and discrimination against those with Down’s syndrome and that it does not constitute “negative stereotyping”.

It also argued there are provisions in place to discourage disability discrimination, such as the guidance for doctors being that it is necessary to support women who choose to carry a pregnancy to term, even if there is a foetal abnormality, and that an abortion must be signed off by two doctors.

Ms Crowter and Ms Lea-Wilson will gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice with campaigners and will give speeches once the ruling has been handed down.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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