Woman with Down's syndrome loses abortion law fight

  • Published
Media caption,

Heidi Crowter says she will not stop her fight against the current abortion laws

A woman with Down's syndrome has lost her High Court challenge over a law that allows abortion up to birth for a foetus with the condition.

Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry, brought the case against the government in July, saying the legislation did not respect her life.

Her legal team had argued the rules were unlawfully discriminatory.

The government maintained there was no evidence the law discriminated against Down's.

As two senior judges dismissed the case earlier, Ms Crowter said she would seek to appeal against the judgement, adding "the fight is not over".

Under current legislation for England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit for abortion, unless "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped", which includes Down's syndrome.

The judges found that section of the Abortion Act was not unlawful, and it aimed to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.

Ms Crowter, who is married and campaigns under her maiden name, said: "We face discrimination every day in schools, in the work place and in society. And now thanks to this verdict the judges have upheld discrimination in the womb too."

She added on Twitter: "The judges might not think [the law] discriminates against me, the government might not think it discriminates against me, but I am telling you I feel discriminated against."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven said at the outset of their judgement: "The issues which have given rise to this claim are highly sensitive and sometimes controversial.

"This court cannot enter into those controversies; it must decide the case only in accordance with the law."

They said they had heard evidence showing some families would "positively wish to have a child" even knowing it would be born with severe disabilities.

But the judges also said there was clear evidence not every family would react the same way and the ability to provide for a disabled child would "vary significantly".

They added while scientific developments had improved, some conditions would only be found late in a pregnancy, after 24 weeks.

The judges concluded the legislation was a matter for Parliament "which can take account of different interests and viewpoints, rather than in litigation".

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Máire Lea-Wilson (centre) brought the case with Heidi Crowter

Ms Crowter's lawyers had claimed the legislation was unlawfully discriminatory as it was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

But at the hearing in July, the government said not only was there was no evidence of discrimination, provisions were in place to discourage it.

Speaking in the summer, Ms Crowter said the law was offensive, and she wanted to challenge people's perception of Down's syndrome so that they saw "just a normal person".

She also said then her stance was not a campaign against women's right to choose.

Ms Crowter brought the case with another two parties - a child who has Down's, identified in the proceedings only as A, and Máire Lea-Wilson, 33, from Brentford, London, whose son Aidan has the condition.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Heidi Crowter says people with Down's syndrome face discrimination in all areas of their lives, including in the womb

Ms Lea-Wilson said she had two boys and felt the judgement "effectively says that my two sons are not viewed as equals in the eyes of the law".

She added she did not regret bringing the case as it had helped raise awareness of the issues, and said she too would appeal against the judgement.

"Equality should be for everyone regardless of the number of chromosomes they have," she said.

Speaking in July, British Pregnancy Advisory Service told the BBC there was "a relatively small number of abortions every year" taking place after 24 weeks.

  • If you have been affected by issues raised in this story, sources of support are available via the BBC Action Line.

Follow BBC West Midlands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Send your story ideas to: newsonline.westmidlands@bbc.co.uk