LONDON (AP) — A woman with Down syndrome lost a court challenge against the British government Thursday over a law allowing the abortion up until birth of a fetus with the condition.
Heidi Crowter, 26, and two others took the Department of Health and Social Care to court, arguing that part of the Abortion Act is discriminatory and violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
Abortions in England, Wales and Scotland are allowed up till 24 weeks of pregnancy. But the law states that terminations can be allowed up until birth if there’s “a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."
Crowter, who lives independently and recently got married, has said that she found the legislation “offensive” and disrespectful. She said she wanted to change the law to challenge people’s perception of Down syndrome.
Two senior judges dismissed the case Thursday after a two-day hearing, concluding that the legislation isn't unlawful and that it aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and that of women.
Judges Rabinder Singh and Nathalie Lieven said the case gave rise to strong feelings and differences over ethical and religious views, but the court must not enter into such controversies and rule only in accordance with the law.
“The evidence before the court powerfully shows that there will be some families who positively wish to have a child, even knowing that it will be born with severe disabilities,” they said. “But the evidence is also clear that not every family will react in that way,” they said, and many families may not be able to provide a disabled child with a supportive environment.
“The evidence is also clear that, although scientific developments have improved and earlier identification may be feasible, there are still conditions which will only be identified late in a pregnancy, after 24 weeks,” the judges added.
Crowter brought the case with Maire Lea-Wilson, 33, who has a son with Down syndrome, and an unidentified child with the condition.
She said she plans to appeal the ruling.
“The fight is not over,” Crowter said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, surrounded by supporters.
“We face discrimination every day in schools, in the workplace and in society. Thanks to the verdict, the judges have upheld discrimination in the womb too,” she said.
Paul Conrathe, a lawyer from the firm representing the three claimants, called the judgment disappointing and “out of step with modern attitudes to disability.”
“By allowing babies with (Down) syndrome to be aborted up to birth, unlike neurotypical babies, the law sends a powerful message that the lives of people with (Down) syndrome are of lesser value," he said.