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World News

'Like Wilberforce, I won't give up' says woman with Down's Syndrome after losing abortion law challenge

by Donna Birrell

A woman who on Friday lost a Court of Appeal challenge over the law which allows the abortion of babies with Down's syndrome up until birth, has said she wants to take the case to the Supreme Court.

27-year-old Heidi Crowter, who has the condition herself, is challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the law which she describes as an "instance of inequality."

In England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit on having an abortion, but the law allows terminations up until birth if there is a substantial risk that the child would suffer from Down's syndrome or certain disabilities. 

Ms Crowter has campaigned for the last six years for equal treatment for those with Down's syndrome in all areas of life. She's been campaigning alongside Máire Lea-Wilson who was placed under pressure to have an abortion when a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down's syndrome. 

Judges ruled last September the current legislation was not unlawful and aimed to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women. The case was reconsidered by the Court of Appeal at a hearing in July.

Following Friday's judgement Heidi Crowter said: "We face discrimination every day in schools, in the workplace and thanks to this verdict the judges have upheld discrimination in the womb to which is downright discrimination. 

"When Wilberforce wanted to abolish the slave trade he didn't give up when things didn't go his way. I won't give up either because the law should be changed to get rid of a negative focus on Down's syndrome - even the words used in it are offensive. 

"This law was made in 1967 when we were not even allowed to go to school because of our extra chromosome, so I think it's time that the judges move with the times and actually meet people with Down's syndrome  and see the people behind the chromosome."

Lynn Murray from the organisation Don't Screen Us Out which has been supporting Heidi Crowter, told Premier Christian News:

"We are absolutely devastated about this ruling because it's so illogical.

"People with Down's syndrome are discriminated against all the time in education and the workplace and health care and the judge has just upheld this. 

"This encapsulates the message that their lives are not of equal value, of dignity. It's just wrong in a progressive society, this is the wrong message to be sending out. 

"I'm so in awe of these women, that they have kept going. It's been such a challenge, and yet they present to the challenge each time." 

Maire Lea-Wilson said: "I do not regret bringing this case, because I believe it has helped raise awareness around the wonderful lives people with Down's syndrome and their families lead, and helped dispel some of the negative, outdated and prejudicial attitudes that are prevalent in society and the medical profession. As Aidan's mother, I will continue to fight for his rights, and look to appeal this judgement, because equality should be for everyone regardless of the number of chromosomes they have."

There were 859 abortions where a baby had Down's syndrome in 2021, an increase of 24 per cent from 2020. The statistics also show a 71 per cent increase in late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had Down's syndrome, increasing from 14 in 2020 to 24 in 2021.


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