Legal challenge to stop abortions for Down’s syndrome

27 February 2020

Two women with first-hand experience of living with Down’s syndrome are taking the UK government to court over discriminatory laws which allow abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome babies.

Heidi Crowter and Cheryl Bilsborrow are being backed by actress and campaigner Sally Phillips, whose own son has Down’s syndrome, and the campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out. They have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, seeking a change to the 1967 Abortion Act to prevent late-term abortions for all non-fatal disabilities.

Pressure to abort

Heidi Crowter is 24 and has Down’s syndrome. Her mother, Liz Crowter, believes there is a lot of pressure on mothers carrying Down’s syndrome babies to have an abortion, but says that children with Down’s are able to live their lives “to the full.” “It’s ridiculous,” Liz told The Times, “five minutes before the baby comes down the birth canal, if the child is suspected to have Down’s, the baby could be aborted.” Heidi herself works and is currently planning her wedding for this summer.


Cheryl Bilsborrow is mother to two-year-old Hector, who also has Down’s syndrome. She too says she felt pressured to have an abortion just days before she gave birth: “The nurse reminded me I could have a termination right up to 40 weeks if the baby had Down’s. I just said to her, ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ but it did make me feel very anxious.” Hector is currently on the books for a modelling agency.

According to Don’t Screen Us Out, some 90% of pregnancies are aborted after the baby is found to have Down’s syndrome. The most recent statistics released by the Department of Health show a 42% increase in abortions for Down’s syndrome since 2008.

Discriminatory abortion law

Currently in England, Wales and Scotland, a general 24-week time limit for abortion is in place, however if the baby has a disability – including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot – abortion can take place right up to birth.

According to government statistics, there were 3,269 disability-selective abortions in 2018, 618 of them being for babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

However, polling has previously shown that the majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland feel that disability should not be grounds for abortion.

Taking the government to court

Heidi commented: “What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination!

“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.

“Sadly, the Government decided to ignore their recommendations and didn’t change the law. So now, I am going to take the Government to court with other members of the Down’s syndrome community to make sure that people aren’t treated differently because of their disabilities.”

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