Down’s Syndrome campaigner Heidi Crowter has won the right to appeal a High Court ruling on abortion laws for unborn babies with Down’s Syndrome.
26-year-old Heidi, from Coventry, who herself has Down’s Syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from West London, whose two-year-old son Aidan also has Down’s syndrome, took their case to the Court of Appeal, challenging the UK Government over its current discriminatory abortion law which allows abortion up to birth for babies with Down’s Syndrome.
In September 2021 however, two High Court judges ruled that the current legislation is lawful, adding that the legislation “aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.”
However, following an aural hearing on Tuesday 8 March, Court of Appeal judges gave permission for the case to be heard again and reconsidered.
Handing down their ruling, Lord Justice Peter Jackson and Lady Justice Nicole Davies said that the applicants had a right to hear the decision of a full court, adding that: “Even if the appeal is likely to fail for other reasons, this is an area where clarity is important and the applicants and others in their position are entitled to know where the law stands on the question of their rights and whether they have been interfered with.”
Currently in England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week limit for abortions to take place, but if the baby is diagnosed with a disability – including Down’s Syndrome, cleft lip or palette and club foot – then abortion is legal up until birth. In 2020, there were 3,083 disability-selective abortions, 693 of which were babies with Down’s Syndrome.
Heidi has campaigned over the last five years for a change in the law and equal treatment for those with Down’s Syndrome, like herself, in all areas of life. The idea that all life – no matter how able – is valuable, is in part what drove Heidi to start campaigning against abortions for Down’s Syndrome babies.
According to the campaign Don’t Screen Us Out, which Heidi helped set up, figures show that around 90% of unborn babies who are diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted. Heidi calls this “downright discrimination.”
The news comes as the World Health Organisation last week listed Down’s Syndrome as one of the most severe birth defects that can be prevented. Medically, there is no way of preventing Down’s Syndrome itself, as it is a condition where a person simply has an extra chromosome. ‘Preventing’ Down’s Syndrome really means eliminating those with the condition through abortion.
Celebrating the chance to appeal
Speaking to the BBC, Heidi commented on winning the right to appeal: “I am so happy I could burst. If we don’t win, then it’s not meant to be, but I think we will win. And it’s even better it happened on International Women’s Day.”
She added: “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.
“So, last year, me and other members of the Down’s syndrome community set out to get rid of the clause in the law, and now our case will soon be heard in the Court of Appeal.
“I hope we win. People shouldn’t be treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s downright discrimination.”
After the ruling was given on Tuesday, Heidi also thanked people for their support on social media, adding: “This is hopefully a good step towards equality in education, the workplace and society in general.”
Vindication for doctor banned for saving babies’ lives
The news also comes as the General Medical Council has lifted restrictions on NHS consultant Dr Dermot Kearney, who had been banned from providing emergency support to women who quickly regretted taking the first of two abortion pills and wanted to save their babies’ lives.
As Dr Kearney is now free to begin offering this service once more, we pray that this will give many more women in crisis pregnancies – including those pregnancy with disabled babies – a better option than to terminate.
Please pray for Heidi’s case. Pray that abortion for Down’s Syndrome babies would be made unthinkable. Pray that more people would support her campaign.
‘I’m thankful my parents chose to have me’
Previously, Heidi and her mum, Liz, joined us on Round the Table to talk about why they are taking their case forward, and how Heidi’s life has so far been a miracle:
Find out more at Don’t Screen Us Out campaign. And you can support and follow the legal case on Crowd Justice.