Today is World Down’s syndrome Day, and it couldn’t be a better time to build awareness around this subject.
At CARE, we consistently advocate that people with Down’s syndrome shouldn’t be treated any differently than other people in our society. It’s something we passionately believe in, and that goes for people with all disabilities, who we believe are created in God’s image and therefore of equal value to everyone else.
But this past month, we’ve been ramping up our campaigning on this issue. In particular, we’ve been supporting a Bill in Northern Ireland, which seeks to eliminate the discriminatory aspect of NI’s new abortion law that allows for abortion up to birth for non-fatal disabilities, such as Down’s syndrome.
One person who’s spoken out passionately in support of this Bill, and who even appeared before the Health Committee at Stormont, is disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome.
The reason Heidi feels so passionately about this is because this law makes her feel like her life is less valuable than other people.
The fact that over 1,500 people with Down’s syndrome, along with their families, signed a letter saying the same thing shows that this is how the law makes many in the Down’s syndrome community feel.
Encouragingly, the Bill passed Stage Two in the NI Assembly by 48-12 which shows how many MLAs at the NI Assembly also recognise that this abortion law is nothing more than discrimination against people with disabilities, because it treats them differently to other babies.
Alongside this small victory, which we hope will result in this Bill becoming law, Heidi has been busy with a legal challenge against abortion law in Britain which has the same discriminatory provision. The case is due to be held at the High Court later this year, and our hope is that the judges see how this law discriminates against people with disabilities and makes them feel their lives are not worth bringing into the world.
It is so encouraging to see these developments take place, and that the tide may be turning on this part of disability discrimination.
But on the other hand, it makes me so sad that we are even having to witness this kind of discrimination continuing in our day and age.
The main driver behind the Abortion Act 1967 was eugenics, which is why a disability Ground for abortion was inserted into the law, but rather than repealing this law as our attitudes towards people with disabilities has changed for the better in society, the law has in fact gotten worse.
For example, in 1990 MPs actually voted to increase abortion for disability up to birth. Now we see widespread testing for Down’s syndrome from increasingly early stages in gestation, with the result that fewer babies are being born with the condition.
Make no mistake, people with Down’s syndrome are rapidly disappearing from our society. In some countries, such as Iceland, they pride themselves on the fact that they have ‘eradicated’ Down’s syndrome. The blindness of such a statement is unfathomable—you haven’t eradicated Down’s syndrome, you’ve just eradicated people with this condition.
And all of this is so at odds with a society that holds up the banner of ‘equality’, but only does so when it is convenient to us or does not interfere too much with our autonomy.
It makes me sad that it is people with disabilities themselves that have to quite literally fight for the right to exist. That should never have been the case. Our society has got this deeply, deeply wrong and today is a day to take stock of that.
This is not about apportioning blame and judgement on individuals: this is about looking at what our society is doing as a whole. If we can truly say on the one hand that we value people with Down’s syndrome and what they contribute to our society, but in the same breath state that they can be legally killed for possessing this condition, we are blind to our double standards.
We don’t have to just accept that this is the way things are. We can’t undo the past, but we can throw out what was truly bad about it. Our society needs to get rid of our eugenic past once and for all, and these recent encouragements are just the start. What it will take is for all of us to come together and tell our representatives in places of power that we will not lie down and accept our discriminatory abortion law. We must keep advocating for change until it happens.
We say we ‘trust women’ when it comes to abortion. Well let’s trust people with Down’s syndrome who are telling us in plain terms how our law makes them feel. This is a day to take encouragement for the wonderful contribution those with Down’s syndrome make to our society, and to celebrate that. But it’s also a day to acknowledge we can and must do much, much better for our neighbour.