Heidi Crowter, 26, a woman living with Down syndrome, is taking the UK Government to court in a bid to overturn abortion laws which allow babies with the condition to be aborted at any stage before birth.
In common with similar state laws in Australia, the UK terminations are permitted beyond a general 24-week time limit if there is a “substantial risk” the child will be born with a serious physical or mental disability.
A group of Church of England bishops offered their support to the legal challenge of Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson, another woman living with Down syndrome.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, together with the Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome – the Church of England’s lead bishop for health and social care – and the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, said people with disability should be “valued, respected and cherished”.
It’s worth noting that this is not a group from the evangelical wing of the church. Cottrell, for example, is regarded as a progressive.
The bishops said: “The Church of England has consistently argued that the law on abortion is discriminatory on two counts. In the first instance, it permits abortions to be carried out solely on the basis of disability; secondly, it removes the 24-week time limit for abortions in cases of disability.”
“We do not believe that such discrimination, founded on the probability of disability, is justifiable.
“There is something profoundly disturbing in our current contradictory stance which says that people living with disability are valued, respected and cherished, but that disability in and of itself represents a valid ground for abortion.”
The case in the High Court began last week. The BBC reports “lawyers argued at the two-day hearing that the law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore unlawfully discriminatory”.
“‘Two of the claimants are in the minority of fetuses who were diagnosed with the condition and not aborted and they live happy and fulfilling lives, as evidence shows the majority of people with Down syndrome do,’ [their layer] Mr Coppal told the court.”
Outside the court, Down syndrome campaigners held a demonstration. The court case is part of a campaign with the meme “downright discrimination”.
“Our case is about equality …” – Máire Lea-Wilson
“This law makes me feel I am better off dead. I know I’m not, but that’s how it makes me feel,” Heidi Crowter said.
“There is no difference between me and someone who doesn’t have Down syndrome, like my nephew. Life is good for people like me and abortion law needs to show that. Everybody is equal, and doctors shouldn’t tell women that they will be sorry if their child is born. They should be supporting them.
“It makes me sad that this doesn’t happen. My family aren’t sorry I was born, my husband isn’t sorry I was born, and all my friends appreciate me too. We are happy with our lives. And my mum, who is also … here today, realises she was wrong about me when I was born.
“She thought I wouldn’t get married and I did. A year ago. It’s my anniversary this week. James, my husband, has Down syndrome too. He supports me in this case.”
Fellow claimant Wilson told the crowd: “I’ve been very much enjoying spending time with my new best friends Heidi and James today.”
“So my son came into my life two years ago and he is just the most incredible human being and everything that I’m doing now I am doing for him. It is a complete honour and a privilege to be stood being an ally beside Heidi and James and the rest of the Down syndrome community today.
“Our case is about equality and that everyone in the whole world deserves to be treated equally regardless of disability, gender, race, religion – and so I really hope that we win today and that we start to pave a path for true equality and acceptance of people with disabilities.”