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PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Down’s syndrome campaigners rally outside High Court as case over discriminatory abortion law heard
A large group of people with Down’s syndrome and their families rallied outside the High Court today in support of Heidi Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson as the first day of their court case against against the UK Government over the current discriminatory abortion law that allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome was heard.
Heidi Crowter, a 26-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose two-year-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law. Máire Lea-Wilson was placed under pressure to have an abortion when a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down’s syndrome.
Heidi and Marie addressed a large rally of supporters who had travelled from around the country including actress and comedian Sally Phillips, who starred in the Bridget Jones franchise.
Further notes on the case and background on the issue are provided below the press release.
Speaking outside the High Court, Heidi Crowter, from Coventry, who has Down’s syndrome said:
Here we are at the High Court to challenge the Downright discrimination that allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome.
This law makes me feel I am better off dead, I know I’m not, but that’s how it makes me feel.
There is no difference between me and someone who doesn’t have Down’s syndrome, like my nephew. Life is good for people like me and abortion law needs to show that. Everybody is equal, and doctors shouldn’t tell women that they will be sorry if their child is born. They should be supporting them.
It makes me sad that this doesn’t happen. My family aren’t sorry I was born, my husband isn’t sorry I was born, and all my friends appreciate me too. We are happy with our lives. And my mum, who is also my agent, here today, realises she was wrong about me when I was born.
She thought I wouldn’t get married and I did. A year ago. It’s my anniversary this week. James, my husband, has Down’s syndrome too. He supports me in this case.
The judges need to know that we are not suffering and our parents and family don’t suffer. The doctors need to hear this, they need to hear from people like me and learn more about life with Down’s syndrome.
My fight for justice and equality has brought us here today to change a law that makes me think I shouldn’t have been born.
When the law changes for us then we will have won the fight. Let’s do this.”
Speaking outside the High Court, Ms Lea-Wilson, 33, an accountant from Brentford, West London and mother to Aidan who has Down’s syndrome said:
“I’ve been very much enjoying spending time with my new best friends Heidi and James today.
“So my son came into my life two years ago and he is just the most incredible human being and everything that I’m doing now I am doing for him. It is a complete honour and a privilege to be stood being an ally beside Heidi and James and the rest of the Down’s syndrome community today.
Our case is about equality and that everyone in the whole world deserves to be treated equally regardless of disability, gender, race, religion- and so I really hope that we win today and that we start to pave a path for true equality and acceptance of people with disabilities.”
Speaking outside the High Court, Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out and mother of Rachel who has Down’s syndrome, said:
“For too long people with Down’s syndrome have been marginalised and excluded from society – but the advent of equality law means that this should no longer the case and these equality ideas should be embedded in every law, including abortion law.
Since January 2016, the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign has been working for the right reforms to ensure that the Down’s syndrome Community is brought in from the margins, fully included in society. We’ve been raising awareness with the NHS and the Government of inequalities in pregnancy screening programs and asking for the voice of people with Down’s syndrome to be part of health policy development.
And in April 2016, Heidi Crowter joined us in London to protest outside the Houses of Parliament at the Don’t Screen Us Out demo. Heidi addressed the crowd that day making the point to the crowd and to the Health Minister that we are all equally valued – no exceptions. And she hasn’t stopped saying it since to anyone that will listen! And lots of people have been listening.
Now Heidi’s an advocate of international stature and millions of people are hearing her voice and her message. And if the Health Minister wasn’t going to listen when she spoke nicely then she was going to take the fight for equality all the way. And she has!
Many people thought that the law needed to be changed but Heidi is the one who’s taken up the fight. Heidi has led and inspired many people and she has done it in her own inimitable way, charming those she meets along the way, especially when she tells people that she has a most amazing memory for remembering birthdays. Try it, test her, we haven’t seen her being beat yet!”
Sally Phillips, actress and comedian who attended the rally, and mother to Ollie who has Down’s syndrome previously told the Times:
“Given advances in medical care and quality of life for people with Down’s syndrome, the different right to life is beginning to look not just dated but barbaric.”
- For more information on the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, see our website www.dontscreenusout.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- For interviews, contact Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray on 0784 0966 736 or email email@example.com
- Heidi’s Facebook page:
- Key details on case and issue:
- Currently in England, Wales and Scotland, there is a general 24-week time limit for abortion, but if the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, abortion is legal right up to birth.
- There were 3,083 disability-selective abortions in 2020. 693 of these abortions were due to babies with Down’s syndrome, an increase of 5.64% from 656 in 2019. . The actual figures are likely to be much higher – a 2013 review showed 886 fetuses were aborted for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in Department of Health records. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health review.
- The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries that provide for abortion on the basis of disability.
- The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. The Government has decided to ignore this recommendation.
- The Disability Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) has said that this aspect of the Abortion Act “is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability…[and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.
- The 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability found the vast majority of those who gave evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 and that it affects wider public attitudes towards discrimination. The Inquiry recommended Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and should consider repealing section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act which allows for it.
- Disabled peer Lord Shinkwin proposed a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but unfortunately ran out of time. The Bill was supported by Disability Rights UK.
- Boris Johnson’s Government introduced new abortion regulations to Northern Ireland last March. The regulations that the Northern Ireland Office introduced allow abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. 1,875 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome was not introduced to Northern Ireland. Westminster recently approved regulations that give the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, power to compel the Northern Ireland Executive to commission full abortion services across Northern Ireland.
- Polling has shown that the majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland feel that disability should not be a grounds for abortion at all, with only one in three people thinking it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability.
- Down’s syndrome abortion figures are expected to increase as NIPT is rolled out across hospitals on the NHS. The number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new test.
- Previous news coverage featuring Heidi Crowter:
- Sky News – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz0pU7TKqb0
- Victoria Derbyshire Show – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeNuWj3xhbM
- Channel 5 News – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeNuWj3xhbM