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Woman with Down’s syndrome loses case to prevent abortions on babies with disabilities after 24 weeks

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A 26-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome has failed to overturn the UK’s abortion laws, with the High Court ruling that unborn babies with disabilities can be aborted after 24 weeks.

Heidi Carter had challenged the current abortion law that allows parents to terminate pregnancies where there is a severe foetal abnormality at any time up until birth.

Speaking to Sky News before the ruling, Mrs Carter said if she lost she would appeal the decision and continue to demand an end to “downright discriminatory” abortion laws.

Heidi Crowter speaking to the media at the High Court in London where she lost a High Court challenge against the Government over legislation which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth. Picture date: Thursday September 23, 2021.
Image: Mrs Carter says she will appeal the decision

Mrs Carter, who got married last year, said: “I don’t like to have to justify my existence, it makes me feel like I’m not as valuable as anyone else. It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be here.”

Abortions can take place in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales. They must be approved by two doctors, who agree that having the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination.

After 24 weeks a woman can have an abortion if she is at risk of grave physical and mental injury, or there if the foetus has a disability, including Down’s syndrome.

At the outset of the judgment Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven: “The issues which have given rise to this claim are highly sensitive and sometimes controversial.

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“They generate strong feelings, on all sides of the debate, including sincere differences of view about ethical and religious matters.

“This court cannot enter into those controversies; it must decide the case only in accordance with the law.”

Speaking outside court at the time of the hearing, Ms Carter told the PA news agency: “I am someone who has Down’s syndrome and 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. I want them to look at me and say ‘this is just a normal person’.

“That’s what this is about. It’s about telling people that we’re just humans with feelings.”

The joint legal action was also brought by Maire Lea-Wilson, the mother of a baby with Down’s syndrome.

Maire Lea-Wilson speaking to the media at the High Court in London after Heidi Crowter lost a High Court challenge against the Government over legislation which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth. Picture date: Thursday September 23, 2021.
Image: Maire Lea-Wilson addresses the media after the ruling

Mrs Lea-Wilson said she “can’t imagine life” without her son, and wants unborn children with Down’s syndrome to have “equal rights”.

She said: “I have two sons and I absolutely love and value them equally and I really think the law should as well.”

Mrs Lea Wilson said: “The case has been really hard work, it’s been quite emotional and quite draining at times but I just so strongly believe that Aidan deserves to be treated equally and seen equally and I would hate for him to grow up and become aware of this law and feel hurt by it, so I will keep fighting for him.”

However the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said women must have the right to “make difficult decisions in heart-breaking situations”.

Chief Executive of BPAS, Clare Murphy, said a change in the law would “force women to continue pregnancies with multiple anomalies to term and give birth where the chances of survival are unclear or unknown”.

She said the distinction between a fatal and non-fatal foetal abnormality is “not a clear white line” and women should be able to make difficult decisions in the “context of significant medical complexities”.

Mrs Murphy said the current law gives women time to understand the implications of a diagnosis, and not feel rushed into a decision.

She said: “Conditions which are diagnosed later in pregnancy can be incredibly complex and very difficult for women and their partners. Women are the ones who are best placed in these circumstances to work out what is right for them in the context of their own lives.”

She said a women’s right to terminate a pregnancy “must be seen as separate” to a society that promotes equal rights for people with disabilities.