Woman with Down syndrome loses challenge of UK abortion law

Two top British judges on Thursday rejected a legal challenge from a woman with Down syndrome over a national abortion law that allows individuals to abort a fetus up until birth by citing “physical or mental abnormalities.” 

Judges Rabinder Singh and Nathalie Lieven ruled that while “there will be some families who positively wish to have a child, even knowing that it will be born with severe disabilities,” the court must acknowledge that “not every family will react in that way,” according to The Associated Press

“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,” they added. 

Heidi Crowter, 26, who has Down syndrome, had joined others in a lawsuit against the United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care, arguing that the Abortion Act implemented in England, Wales and Scotland is a form of disability discrimination that violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

The AP reported that Crowter has said that she was motivated to launch the legal challenge to help change the public’s perspective on Down syndrome. 

While the law prohibits most abortions following 24 weeks into a pregnancy, abortions can be permitted up until the time of birth if it is determined that 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.”

The judges ruled in favor of the law following a two-day hearing, noting that while there may be divergent ethical and religious opinions on the law, the court must look at the matter solely from a legal perspective. 

Crowter told fellow opponents of the law gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London Thursday that she planned to challenge the ruling. 

“The fight is not over,” she said. “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,” Crowter added, according to the AP. 

The British ruling comes as Down syndrome has also become a component of legal battles over abortion laws in the U.S.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit blocked a Tennessee measure that would have prohibited abortions after a heartbeat is detected and prevented people from citing a Down syndrome or other medical diagnosis as a reason to perform an abortion. 

This week, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard oral arguments regarding a similar Missouri law that would prohibit abortions if a Down syndrome diagnosis was the sole reason given for the procedure.

Tags Abortion abortion ban Abortion law Down syndrome Heidi Crowter Missouri Tennessee The Associated Press United Kingdom

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