On Oct. 17, the High Court of England and Wales agreed to hear a case brought by two women who want to change a law allowing mothers to abort their babies up to the moment of birth if the children have Down syndrome. Heidi Crowter, one of the women bringing the case, has Down syndrome herself and says the law is “deeply offensive” and discriminatory.
“The current law is unfair,” Heidi Crowter told the Sunday Telegraph. “It makes me feel like I shouldn’t exist, and that I’d be better off dead in the eyes of the law. The policy basically says that it’s normal for a baby with Down’s syndrome to be terminated right up until birth.”
In the U.K., current law allows women to get an abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy. There are several exceptions to this limit, including if the mother’s life is in danger or if her physical or mental health are in significant danger. The law also provides an exception if “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.”
Heidi Crowter: ‘Fearfully and wonderfully made’
“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be ‘seriously handicapped,’” wrote Heidi Crowter on the fundraising page for the campaign. “They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped—just because I have an extra chromosome! Can you believe that? What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right.” In a video posted by The Christian Institute, Crowter explained she believes abortion is wrong because of her Christian faith and cited Psalm 139:14, which says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
At least 90 percent of the women in the U.K. who are told that their unborn children will have Down syndrome choose to abort their babies. In December 2019, The Times reported that births of babies with Down syndrome had dropped by 30 percent after new prenatal screening led to a more accurate diagnosis of Down syndrome and therefore more women getting abortions. Crowter and others fear that prenatal screening will continue to lead to an increase in the number of babies with Down syndrome who are aborted.
Joining Crowter in her campaign to change the law is Máire Lea-Wilson, whose 16-month-old son Aidan has Down syndrome. Lea-Wilson told Skye News that she was 34 weeks pregnant when she was told the distressing news about her son’s health.
“During this time of great vulnerability,” she said, “I was told that my child would not be able to live independently, might not be able to walk or talk, would suffer through surgeries to correct his intestinal issues and possible congenital heart defects, that there was a high chance of stillbirth, and that he would make our lives so much more challenging.”
“The first thing they wanted to talk about was whether we wanted to terminate the pregnancy.”
Abortions are legal in the UK after the normal 24-week limit if Down’s syndrome is detected. Máire Lea-Wilson explains why she wants this law changed.https://t.co/9wEKMMYh8s pic.twitter.com/bUpQbjeXtD
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) October 18, 2020
“I was offered an abortion three times,” said Lea-Wilson. “The fact that I could have an abortion at such a late stage of pregnancy, made me feel like Down’s syndrome must be very, very bad indeed.” She acknowledged that she does worry about Aidan’s future, but Lea-Wilson also said she is extremely thankful for her son and would not change anything about him:
We live in a society that proclaims that we want to empower those with disabilities, and that regardless of your background, you deserve a fair and equal chance at life. This law, which allows abortion up until birth, is outdated, and we can do so much better than this. I want my children to grow up knowing that we truly are all equally valued, regardless of ability status.
Other women who spoke to the BBC reported feeling pressured by their doctors and midwives to abort their children after finding out their children would have Down syndrome. A mother named Emma Mellor said, “In all honesty we were offered 15 terminations, even though we made it really clear that it wasn’t an option for us, but they really seemed to push and really seemed to want us to terminate.” The doctors told Mellor she had the option to abort her baby up to the moment her daughter started traveling down the birth canal.