Woman with Down's syndrome challenges abortion law in High Court

6 July 2021, 09:15 | Updated: 6 July 2021, 09:40

Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, is taking legal action against the Government because she believes the law allowing terminations up to full term is "downright discrimination".
Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, is taking legal action against the Government because she believes the law allowing terminations up to full term is "downright discrimination". Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A woman with Down's syndrome is heading to the High Court to challenge legislation which allows abortions up to birth for babies with the condition.

Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, is taking legal action against the Government because she believes the law is "downright discrimination".

Maire Lea-Wilson, 33, an accountant and mother of two from west London whose son Aidan has Down's syndrome, is also bringing the legal challenge, which she hopes will remove "a specific instance of inequality of the law".

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.

At a two-day High Court hearing, lawyers representing Ms Crowter and Ms Lea-Wilson will argue that the law as it stands is unlawfully discriminatory.

Ms Crowter says she doesn't think the law is fair
Ms Crowter says she doesn't think the law is fair. Picture: PA

The pair, supported by the campaign group Don't Screen Us Out, are expected to hold a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the first day of the landmark case on Tuesday.

In a statement before the hearing, Ms Crowter said: "The law says that babies shouldn't be aborted up to birth, but if a baby is found to have Down's syndrome it can be aborted up until birth.

"This is the current law in the UK and I think it's not fair.

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like me are considered to be 'seriously handicapped', but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date.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

Ms Lea-Wilson said: "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.

"My motivation for taking this joint legal action with Heidi has always been simple: as a mother, I will do all that I can to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of my son, Aidan.

"This case is not about the rights or wrongs of abortion.

"It has always been about removing a specific instance of inequality of the law, whereby for a child without a disability the legal limit for abortion is 24 weeks, but you can have an abortion right up to full term with a child that does have a disability.

"We proclaim that we live in a society which values those with disabilities, that everyone deserves a fair and equal chance at life, regardless of their ability status.

"This law undermines that narrative. Does it really have a place in 2021?"

The Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Carlisle James Newcome - the Church of England's lead bishop for health and social care - and Christine Hardman, the Bishop of Newcastle, said in a statement: "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 24-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."

The hearing before Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven begins at 10.30am on Tuesday and is expected to conclude on Wednesday afternoon.

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