Woman loses High Court challenge over ‘instance of inequality’ in Down’s syndrome abortion law

A woman with Down’s syndrome has lost a High Court challenge against the Government over legislation which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth.

Heidi Crowter (pictured), 26, from Coventry, is one of the three claimants who brought legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act they believe to be an “instance of inequality”.

In England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit on having an abortion.

But terminations can be allowed up until birth if 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”, which includes Down’s syndrome.

At a two-day hearing in July, lawyers representing the claimants argued the law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore unlawfully discriminatory.

But, in a ruling on Thursday, their case was dismissed by two senior judges, who concluded the legislation is not unlawful and aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.

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

“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 Crowter 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.”

She brought the case with Maire Lea-Wilson, 33, an accountant and mother-of-two from west London, whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, and a child with Down’s syndrome, identified only as A.

Ms Crowter and Ms Lea-Wilson are expected to gather with campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice and give speeches later on Thursday.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gareth Fuller / PA.