'I'm feeling really upset and gutted', Heidi Crowter tells ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry
A woman with Down's syndrome has lost her legal challenge against the government over a law that allows abortion up until birth for babies with the condition. Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, had brought the case against the Department of Health and Social Care to the High Court, saying the law did not respect her life.
She was one of three claimants who brought the legal action, in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act.
In England, Wales and Scotland, abortions are allowed within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
But abortions are allowed 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 in July, lawyers representing the Down's syndrome campaigners argued the law is unlawfully discriminatory and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
But in a ruling handed down on Thursday morning, Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven rejected the legal challenge.
The senior judges concluded the legislation is not unlawful and aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.
Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven said: “The evidence before the court powerfully shows that there will be some families who positively wish to have a child, even knowing that it will be born with severe disabilities. “But the evidence is also clear that not every family will react in that way. As it was put on behalf of the defendant, the ability of families to provide a disabled child with a nurturing and supportive environment will vary significantly. “The evidence is also clear that, although scientific developments have improved and earlier identification may be feasible, there are still conditions which will only be identified late in a pregnancy, after 24 weeks.”
Speaking outside court at the time of the hearing, Ms Crowter told the PA news agency: “I am someone who has Down’s syndrome and I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn’t respect my life, and I won’t stand for it.
“I want to change the law and I want to challenge people’s perception of Down’s syndrome. I want them to look at me and say ‘this is just a normal person’.
“That’s what this is about. It’s about telling people that we’re just humans with feelings.”
Ms Crowter, who was surrounded by dozens of supporters outside the court building in central London, added: “When Wilberforce wanted to change the law on slavery, he didn’t give up, even when events didn’t always go his way. “And when the going got tough, he kept going, and I’m going to do the same, because I want to succeed in changing the law to stop babies like me… being aborted up to birth, because its 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 case.
She said: “I was 34 weeks pregnant when I discovered Aidan had Down’s syndrome, and I was asked if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy, in the context of a lot of medically biased information, and my own grief, three times.
“The last time I was asked to terminate the pregnancy was two days before he was born.”
Paul Conrathe, a solicitor at Sinclairslaw, who represented the three claimants, said his clients will seek to appeal. He said: “ The judgment fails to recognise the damaging impact UK abortion legislation has upon the mental health and wellbeing of people with Down’s syndrome. “By allowing babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted up to birth, unlike neurotypical babies, the law sends a powerful message that the lives of people with Down’s syndrome are of lesser value."
Lynn Murray, spokesperson for campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out and mother of Rachel, who has Down’s syndrome, said: “It’s inspiring to see that Heidi and Maire are now planning on taking this case to the Court of Appeal.
“We’re a far more progressive society now, we realise that diversity is healthy, and all of our laws should reflect that.”
The government said the case should be dismissed on the grounds there is no evidence of discrimination against those with Down’s syndrome.
Where can you get help or support on this:
The NHS has a resource page offering various routes to support here.
The Down’s Syndrome Association provides information and support for people with Down's syndrome, their families and carers, and the professionals who work with them. Their helpline is 0333 1212 300.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is a British charity whose stated purpose is to avoid unwanted pregnancy.