Analysis

Woman with Down syndrome: UK law says people like me are ‘better off dead’

A young woman with Down syndrome is campaigning to change discriminatory abortion laws in the United Kingdom, and has just gotten the chance to move ahead with what is being called a “landmark challenge” against the law.

In the United Kingdom, abortion is illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy — unless the child has any disability, even one as minor as a cleft lip. People with disabilities have spoken out against this exception, which they believe is discriminatory against people like them, and which encourages negative attitudes and stereotypes towards people with disabilities. This has led to a 90% abortion rate for babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome. According to Don’t Screen Us Out, a Down syndrome advocacy group, over half of these abortions take place after 24 weeks.

Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down syndrome, sued the United Kingdom government earlier this year, in partnership with a mother of a child with Down syndrome. Crowter also got married this summer, in a live-streamed ceremony that was seen by over 35,000 people. But recently, she also had another major success.

 

Crowter has called for a judicial review to change the current discriminatory law and has been given approval for her case against health secretary Matt Hancock to be heard by the High Court, according to the Telegraph. The Honourable Mr Justice Morris, in court documents granting the review, said “the claim is arguable on all grounds.”

“The current law is unfair. It makes me feel like I shouldn’t exist, and that I’d be better off dead in the eyes of the law,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “The policy basically says that it’s normal for a baby with Down’s syndrome to be terminated right up until birth. The reason why this is important to me is because I have Down’s syndrome, I know what it is to have it, and my husband has it.”

READ: Fears of lethal discrimination mount as UK promotes increased prenatal Down syndrome screening

About her challenge being heard, she said, “I feel amazing knowing that the case is going to be heard in the High Court.” In her claim, Crowter and the others filing with her say that Hancock “has not sought to justify the discriminatory treatment of disabled fetuses.” The law has also “perpetuated a social environment where people with disabilities are discriminated against after birth,” and send a message that people like Crowter “are not wanted and are not valued as much as normal people.”

Crowter also has at least one powerful ally: Lord Peter Shinkwin, a member of the House of Lords who has a disability himself. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, Lord Shinkwin has long spoken out against eugenic abortions in the United Kingdom. He has warned that people with disabilities are facing extinction, and has previously filed bills to ban abortion due to disability. When asked about Crowter’s case, Shinkwin said, “At a time of astronomical national debt, I cannot believe that Matt Hancock is seriously considering wasting taxpayers’ money defending this case.”

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