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UK News

'Downright discrimination' - bishops back challenge to Downs Syndrome abortion law

by Donna Birrell

A group of Church of England bishops have offered their support to a legal challenge to the law relating to abortion and Down's Syndrome.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome and the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, said people with disability should be "valued, respected and cherished".

The campaign, led by Heidi Carter (née Crowter) and Máire Lea-Wilson, argues that the law discriminates in its treatment of people with Down's Syndrome.

In England, Wales and Scotland, there is a general 24-week time limit to have an abortion.

But terminations can be permitted 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.

26 year old Heidi, from Coventry, is taking legal action against the Government because she believes the law needs to be changed:

"People like me are considered to be 'seriously handicapped', but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date.

"The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently said that the United Kingdom should change its abortion law to make sure that people like me aren't singled out because of our disabilities, but the Government hasn't changed the law.

"I hope we win. People shouldn't be treated differently because of their disabilities, it's downright discrimination."

33 year old Maire Lea-Wilson, has a son, Aidan, who has Down's syndrome:

"I have two sons that I love and value equally, but the law does not value them equally.

"This is wrong and so we want to try and change that."

In a statement, the bishops said: 

"The Church of England has consistently argued that the law on abortion is discriminatory on two counts. In the first instance, it permits abortions to be carried out solely on the basis of disability; secondly, it removes the twenty-four week time limit for abortions in cases of disability.

"We do not believe that such discrimination, founded on the probability of disability, is justifiable. There is something profoundly disturbing in our current contradictory stance which says that people living with disability are valued, respected and cherished, but that disability in and of itself represents a valid ground for abortion.

"It is right that this should be scrutinised by the Courts and we commend Heidi Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson for bringing their challenge to the High Court while continuing to recognise that Parliament has within its powers the ability to end this discriminatory practice."


The hearing before Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven is expected to conclude on Wednesday afternoon.
 

 

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