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Emmerdale gets over 400 complaints as Downs Syndrome abortion storyline is aired

Ofcom has received over 400 complaints about a storyline in Emmerdale which sees a woman contemplating aborting her pregnancy because the baby has Downs Syndrome.

The actual episode where she decides to terminate the pregnancy airs on Friday but the complaints have been coming in from the Downs Syndrome community and regular viewers about the lead up to it. Others are saying a woman's right to choose should never be criticised or judged. 

The group Don't Screen Us Out, who campaign for an end to full-term abortions when there is a DS diagnosis, told Premier that, most importantly, it has upset the people who have Downs Syndrome. 

Lynn Murray from Don't Screen Us Out told Premier: "I've had one girl with Downs Syndrome on the phone to me crying about this, that's how strongly she felt about it. There was an article yesterday in the papers about a family who are concerned about their daughter, who's an Emmerdale viewer, and how they're going to explain this to her. We have various adults with Downs syndrome who have expressed concerns and feel hurt by this storyline."

265 complaints were registered with Ofcom between 24th-30th November, after scenes in which the character Laurel asked questions about getting an abortion after hearing the news. It was the second most-complained about programme that week after Good Morning Britiain.

Ofcom recorded a further 182 complaints for the same episode and another 48 for the episode shown on 1st December between 1st December and 7th December, totalling 495, with Emmerdale being the most complained about programme that week. 

Many viewers tweeted their opinions of the storyline. 

One said: "Yikes - we've already got Laurel talking about Downs Syndrome like it's a fate worse than death. There are ways to tell this story without acting like someone having DS is the equivalent to finding out your baby is terminally ill #Emmerdale"

Lexi Rose wrote: "After 34 years of having a sibling who happens to have Down's Syndrome I can assure you - we had a normal happy childhood. The only thing distressing about it is that in 34 years I'm still hearing the same outdated rhetoric telling me how I'm supposed to feel about it."



In response to a tweet from ITV advising people to go to the Downs Syndrome Association website if they were affected by the storyline, one person replied: "YES I AM AFFECTED. I have to wait until the characters come on TB and then phone my daughter with Downs syndrome to see if i can distract her from watching. You are damaging my daughter with story line. I will not watch it again and will encourage people to ban Emmerdale."

Another viewer picked up on the language used to introduce the show: "@ITV it's 5pm and your programme announcer said Jay and Lauren get devastating news. We all know they will find out their child has Downs Syndrome but to suggest having a child with Downs Syndrome is devastating is disgraceful and offensive to those with DS and their parents."

Speaking out the response it has got from viewers, Lynn Murray said: "I'm kind of amazed that we've been responding to this for over a month. People in the community and other people have really taken us on as something that they feel really strongly about, people with Down syndrome as well, who feel strongly about it and are harmed by it. But unfortunately we're not getting the appropriate response from the powers that be, including ITV, Ofcom and people that should be recognising that we're actually saying 'there's a challenge to policy here, because you're focusing in on a minority group without trying to manage the impacts on that group.' "

More than 31,500 people have signed a petition asking for the 'prejudiced storyline' to be dropped.  

The couple's final decision will be aired on Friday, after Thursday's episode showed Laurel talking to Rhona, who has a child with Down's Syndrome. Rhona was upset that Laurel was leaning towards taking a different decision regarding a child with the same condition as hers. 

Some viewers felt it was important to show the reality of a couple in that situation. 

One wrote: "No one is saying Down syndrome babies should be aborted. We know they're joys to have but abortions can come for various reasons, I love that #emmerdale are showing a 'controversial' storyline that thousands of women deal with daily, but abortion isn't controversial, it's a right."

Another said: "I feel so bad for Laurel no one has the right to make someone feel guilty for considering an abortion #Emmerdale"

ITV says it is important to depict people in all situations and show the difficult decisions people have to make in real life and the impact they have.

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