Woman with Down's Syndrome challenges 'discriminatory' abortion law at High Court

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports on the campaign

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

Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, believes the law is “downright discrimination”.

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".

This definition includes Down’s syndrome.

Heidi said the law was downright discrimination Credit: PA

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

She 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."

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.

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 she did not think the current law was fair adding "people shouldn’t be treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s downright discrimination".

Heidi's case is excepted to conclude on Wednesday Credit: PA

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like me are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped’, but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date.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

Ms Lea-Wilson said: “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 case is being supported by the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell Credit: PA

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Carlisle James Newcome – the Church of England’s lead bishop for health and social care – and Bishop of Newcastle Christine Hardman 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.