Abortion law impacts self-worth of disabled people, appeal court hears

Abortion law is impacting the self-worth of disabled people, a lawyer representing a woman with Down’s syndrome has told the Court of Appeal.

Heidi Crowter (pictured), 27, from Coventry, brought legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act she believes to be an “instance of inequality”.

Judges ruled last September the legislation was not unlawful and aimed to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and of women.

On Wednesday, the case was reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.

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

But the law allows terminations 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.

Jason Coppell QC, representing the appellants, said: “Its effect is to stereotype life as a disabled, or seriously handicapped, person as not worth living and certainly as having less value than life as an able-bodied person, thereby impacting on the feelings of self-worth and self-confidence of disabled persons, such as Ms Crowter.”

He said the language used in the act was “outmoded” and considered by some to be offensive and unacceptable.

Speaking to Sky News outside court before the hearing, Ms Crowter who lives independently and is married to James Carter, 28, said: “In 2022, we live in a society where disabled people are valued equally after birth but not in the womb.

“I hope that the judges will agree with me that this law is discrimination and needs to be changed.”

The case was initially brought by Ms Crowter 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.

Down’s syndrome, a result of being born by chance with an extra chromosome, results in some level of disability – with some people able to be independent and hold a job, while others will need more regular care.

Mr Coppel said: “In modern days, Down’s syndrome is not a barrier to living a happy and fulfilled existence as Heidi and Aidan demonstrate.”

He said the act interfered with the rights of disabled people to a private and family life, under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Julia Smyth, representing the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “The ultimate question which underlies this appeal is where society should set the limits in criminalising women for the choices they make in deciding whether or not to have an abortion.

“Obviously that raises profound social, moral and ethical questions and there are irreconcilable views on all sides of the debate.”

In their ruling last year, Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven concluded that the legislation was a matter for Parliament, which can take account of a range of views, rather than the courts.

The appeal hearing, before Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, was adjourned on Wednesday afternoon and a judgment is expected at a later date.

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