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Landmark case challenges 'discriminatory' UK abortion law

Abortion
7 July 2021
Heidi

The High Court has heard that UK abortion laws directly discriminate against preborn babies with a disability.

A landmark case brought by Heidi Crowter, a 26-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, 33, whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, is pushing for current provisions allowing abortion up to birth in cases of disability to be overturned.

In England, Scotland and Wales, abortion is generally permitted up to 24 weeks gestation. However, if a child is thought to have a physical or mental impairment they can be aborted at any time.

Every year in the UK, tens-of-thousands of abortion take place on the grounds of disability. More than 90 per cent of Down's babies are terminated. And abortions even take place on the grounds of minor abnormalities such as cleft palate.

Speaking before going into court, Heidi Crowter said: “I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn’t respect my life, and I won’t stand for it. I want to change the law and I want to challenge people’s perception of Down’s syndrome.”

Máire Lea-Wilson said: “I have two sons who I love and I value equally and I can’t understand why the law doesn’t.

“I want Aidan to grow up knowing he’s not someone people have to cope with, he’s not a burden to society, he is a wonderful human being in his own right. And so I want the law to change so that the rules for a typical baby apply for those with Down’s syndrome.”

On Tuesday, lawyers acting for Ms Crowter argued that the current law is discriminatory, interferes with the right to respect for private life in article 8(1) of the European convention on human rights (ECHR), and “rights to dignity, autonomy and personal development of all three claimants” under Article 2 of the ECHR.

Jason Coppel QC, representing the claimants, told the high court in London: "A disabled child should be treated as having exactly the same worth as a non-disabled child".

"Contrary to common belief, persons with disability can experience a good quality of life. What determines the quality of life of a person with disabilities is the same things that determines the quality of life of anyone else."

On Wednesday, the Government's QC challenged Coppel's contention that unborn babies have "rights" under Article 2 of the ECHR and claimed that his arguments along these lines should be dismissed by the court.

He told the court "the unborn are not the holders of rights." "We submit that the fetus having rights is intensely problematic. The European court has not [ascribed rights to the unborn]."

The QC added that Article 8 rights (pertaining to a private family life) are "engaged" in the case because "we are dealing with the decision of a woman and her family to continue or not with a pregnancy".

The two day hearing will conclude today and judgment is expected to be reserved.

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