Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman who has Down’s syndrome (DS), has launched a landmark case against the UK Government over abortion law which allows terminations up to birth for babies with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities.
The case is being brought jointly by Heidi and Cheryl Bilsborrow, whose two-year-old son Hector has DS. The aim is to stop babies with disabilities being singled out by the current law. A Crowd Justice Fund set up to raise money to bring the case to the government, reached the necessary £20,000 within a week. The target was increased to £50,000 to fund the next part of the case which involves appointing a barrister.
Heidi’s parents Steve and Liz said to en: ‘When a solicitor approached a friend asking if he could help in any issues regarding DS she asked us if Heidi would be interested in taking a case against the government for discrimination in the womb. The answer was a typically Heidi enthusiastic YES!
‘There was immediate media interest in the story from The Sunday Times, Victoria Derbyshire, and Channel 5, amongst others. Interest was heightened because it was the first case brought by someone with DS challenging discrimination before birth. [As en went to print, the government had not responded to the letter.]
‘The prevailing response was support for Heidi’s campaign from around the world. The DS community responded positively to the campaign and social media began buzzing with #ImWithHeidi.’
In her own words
Heidi said: ‘When I found out that the UK law allows abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome I was really upset and deeply offended. The time limit for babies without DS is 24 weeks. I think this is downright discrimination in the womb. What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others.
‘I love life! I became a Christian when I was about 12 years old and was baptised when I was 13. I love going to church and singing hymns. I moved into my own flat when I was 20 and have a few hours of support each week. I’m getting married in July.’
A UN report by the special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (A/HRC/43/41) noted that the UK was singling out babies with disabilities and recommended a change in the abortion law. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated: ‘The right to life includes the right to survive and develop on equal basis with others. Disability cannot be a justification for termination of life.’ 92% of parents terminate after a prenatal diagnosis of DS. There were 3,269 disability-selective abortions in 2018 and 618 of these were for Down’s syndrome. This represents a 42% increase in abortion for Down’s syndrome in the last ten years, with figures rising from 436 in 2008. The Disability Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) have said that this aspect of the Abortion Act ‘is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability … [and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally’.
In 1990 The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 changed the termination time limit to 24 weeks except where ‘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’. Babies have been terminated up to birth for DS, cleft palate, and harelip under these Ground E terminations. Abortion providers have suggested that the law should indeed be equalised. However for them, this means extending the right to abort up to birth for all pregnancies.
In interviews, Heidi and her mum have been clear that this campaign isn’t about abortion choices per se, but about the direct discrimination being faced by those in the womb who have DS and other conditions or disabilities.