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Heidi Crowther PA abortion Downs Syndrome.jpg
UK News

Christian campaigners say Emmerdale Down's syndrome abortion storyline is 'devastating' and perpetuates stereotypes

An Emmerdale storyline will soon involve a couple deciding to abort their baby as it has Down's syndrome. Campaigners and Christian parents of children with Down's syndrome say it is offensive and outdated. 

The soap opera plot features the couple Laurel and Jai getting pregnant and finding out before the baby is born that it has Down's syndrome. They then decide to terminate the pregnancy and the plot follows the impact of that decision on their lives. 

Down's syndrome is a condition which around 40,000 people in the UK have, caused by having an extra chromosome. It results in a learning disability but most people can attend mainstream school and live to an age of 50-60. 

In the UK, if Down's syndrome is detected before birth, it can be aborted up to the full-term of the pregnancy, whereas it is illegal to do so after 24 weeks for babies without the condition. 

There will be a High Court case on this however, with campaigners Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old with Down's syndrome, and Maire Brady, a mother of a boy with Down's syndrome, arguing that the current law is discriminatory. 

Campaigners, including actress and Christian Sally Phillips, argue that Emmerdale's storyline is insulting as it reinforces the stereotype that people with Down's syndrome are not worth looking after and that their lives are not as important as a child without the condition. 

 

Laura Shaw, Emmerdale's producer said this week: "We're confident that what we've produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way.

"We haven't gone into this blindly, we've spoken to as many people as we possibly can. We've got the research, this is based on real life, and I think people will see that.

"You're going to feel uncomfortable at times watching it, but I hope that people will then, as they watch it, understand why we've done it.

"And what you'll see through Jai and Laurel's story is how that decision goes on to affect their lives for years to come."

Sarah Costerton, a Christian and mum of three girls, including Beth who has Down's syndrome, told Premier the show is circulating an idea that is already promoted by health professionals - that life is better without a child with the condition: "The first thing the consultant said to me is 'are you sure you want to keep her because that's not what anyone else does?' So, the story really is around the maternity services and how the news is told to parents. When you've got so much negativity anyway to deal with, and then you've got a soap perpetuating that life will be easier and better and more simple without a child, it's devastating for our community."

When asked if the show might actually have the opposite effect, and viewers might disagree with the characters' decision, Costerton said: "It would be really nice to think that would be the case. But Emmerdale haven't contacted any charity that works with people with Down's syndrome. So, the only advice, as far as we're aware that they've taken, is from Antenatal Results and Choices which is a charity that was formerly known as 'support for termination following foetal anomaly', they've changed their name but actually the work they do is pretty much the same. They claim to be impartial but they're not. They don't have support systems in place for people who continue and if Emmerdale have run the storyline and script passed ARC, we know how that's gonna play out."

 

The Down's Syndrome Association, which is not a Christian charity, has confirmed that they were not consulted on the storyline, saying: "All expectant parents must be provided with accurate and up to date information. The DSA can provide balanced and up to date information about Down's syndrome for expectant parents and we would encourage anyone in this situation to contact our confidential helpline to talk with our trained staff for non-directive information and support."

18,500 people have also signed a petition for the soap to bin the storyline. 

Sarah agreed that it will not be something she wants anyone who knows her daughter to watch: "My concerns were, well what if her classmates see this? She's just one of the team, no one notices anything different about Beth, she's got a whole list of friends, she's very popular, she's well-loved and the idea that some of those children might overhear the storyline and think, 'oh, is Beth a problem?' - for little minds, I just felt this wasn't appropriate at all."

The storyline will air on the ITV soap over the winter.

Jane Fisher, director of the Antenatal Results & Choices charity said she hoped the plot would encourage people not to think about abortion as a taboo subject.

“I think it’s really important that people can speak about it, it’s not that they must because for many people this is a very personal and painful and private experience and that’s fine, they may not want to talk about it,” she said.

“But they need to know that they can and I think at the moment we are in a situation where many people feel very reticent to talk about what’s happened to them.”

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