The most recent abortion statistics released by the Department of Health and Social Care today show 656 abortions where a baby had Down’s syndrome in 2019.
Under the current law, abortion is allowed up to birth if a baby has a disability including Down’s syndrome.
The actual numbers are probably higher than reported due to under-reporting on disability abortion statistics. A 2013 review showed 886 abortions for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in abortion statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health and Social Care review.
The private availability of cfDNA testing (otherwise known as NIPT) is likely already leading to an increase in the numbers of children with Down’s syndrome being screened out by termination. Some rolling-out of these tests on the NHS, who were already recommending the private tests to expectant mothers, may also be having an impact on the numbers of terminations.
Recently, an investigation by The Sunday Times found that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new form of screening.
The figures, which were released by 26 hospital trusts in England under freedom of information laws, account for about a fifth of the hospital trusts that offer maternity services. They show that more women who have the new test go on to have abortions.
This situation is set to get worse as the Government still intends to move ahead with proposals to implement cfDNA testing into the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme.
The Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, a coalition of Down’s syndrome advocacy groups, are urging Matt Hancock to delay the implementation of the new test until there has been full consultation with the community of people with Down’s syndrome and medical reforms have been introduced which address the unresolved ethical issues of screening.
Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, has joined forces with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose eleven-month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, and have launched a landmark case against the UK Government over the current discriminatory abortion law which allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome.
Lynn Murray, spokesperson for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign said:
“As a mother of a 20-year-old daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her.
It is deeply concerning that despite the leaps that advocacy groups have made in raising awareness in support of people with Down’s syndrome, abortion in the case of Down’s syndrome is still so commonplace and widespread in the UK. In fact, we hear from parents all the time how abortion was repeatedly presented to them in the hospital as an obvious solution following the receipt of the news that their baby had Down’s syndrome.
With the Government set to follow through on proposals to make private screening tests available on the NHS, projections show that there will likely be a steep increase in the numbers of children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination unless there is an immediate intervention.
In England and Wales, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Northern Ireland currently has a very different approach when a baby is found to have Down’s syndrome. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is illegal and there is a culture of accepting and supporting people with disabilities rather than eliminating them.
This is reflected directly in recent official figures showing that almost 100% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland are born. This greatly contrasts with the 90% termination rate for Down’s syndrome from other parts of the UK.”
For interviews, contact Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray on 0784 0966 736 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The abortion statistics report from the Department of Health and Social Care for England and Wales for 2019 are available here.