Heidi Crowter, 27, from Coventry, has filed legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in hopes of scrapping a section of the abortion law she believes is an “example of inequality”.
Judges ruled last September that the legislation is not illegal and aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and women, but the case was reconsidered by the Court of Appeal at a hearing in July.
In England, Wales and Scotland there is a 24 week deadline for an abortion.
But the law allows terminations until birth if “there is a significant risk that the child would suffer such physical or mental abnormalities at birth as to render it severely disabled,” which explains Down syndrome.
Jason Coppell KC, representing Ms Crowter, and Maire Lea-Wilson, the mother of Aidan, a young boy with Down syndrome who is appealing alongside Ms Crowter, told the court in July: “The effect is life stereotyping people as disabled, or severely disabled, people as not worth living in and certainly less than living as a non-disabled person, which impacts the self-esteem and self-confidence of disabled people like Ms Crowter.”
He said the language used in the law was “outdated” and considered by some to be offensive and unacceptable.
But in a ruling on Friday, three senior judges dismissed the appeal.
Summarizing the decision of Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, the judges said the law did not interfere with the rights of the “living disabled”.
“The court recognizes that many people with Down syndrome and other disabilities will be angry and offended that being diagnosed with a severe disability during pregnancy is treated by law as justification for having an abortion and that they may see this as implicit in their own Life is of lesser value,” the judges said.
“But it considers that the perception that the law implies this is not in itself sufficient to lead to an interference with the rights of Article 8 (to private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights),” added she added.
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Down syndrome, a result of being accidentally born with an extra chromosome, results in a degree of disability – some people are able to be independent and have a job, while others require more regular care.
In their judgment last year, Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven concluded that legislation is a matter for Parliament, which can consider a range of views, rather than the courts.
Ms Crowter said after the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London she could now take her case to the Supreme Court.
“I’m very upset that I didn’t win again, but I will keep fighting because we’ve already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s minds about the law,” she told reporters.
“I am very upset that babies with Down syndrome can be aborted until birth. This tells me that I am unappreciated and worth much less than a person without Down Syndrome.
“I’m angry that the judges say my feelings don’t matter. It makes me feel like I’m not as valuable as a person without Down Syndrome.”
Where can you get help or support for this:
The NHS has a resource page offering different ways to get support here.
That Down Syndrome Association provides information and support for people with Down syndrome, their families and carers, and the professionals who work with them. Their hotline is 0333 1212 300.
That British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS) is a UK charity whose stated aim is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.