Abortion legislation stereotypes, demeans and discriminates in opposition to disabled individuals, court docket hears – Incapacity Information Service
A disabled activist went to the Supreme Court this week to hear her legal department argue that it is “morally and ethically wrong” and discriminatory to abort disabled fetuses until the moment of birth.
Coventry-based Heidi Crowter is one of three plaintiffs seeking the Supreme Court’s incompatibility of an important section of the 1967 Abortion Act with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Crowter (pictured), who has Down syndrome and whose team has so far crowdfunded more than £ 100,000 for the legal case, is accompanied by two-year-old Aidan Lea-Wilson, who also has Down syndrome. and his mother Máire from Brentford.
The court heard Lea-Wilson pressured to have an abortion – and felt criticized, assaulted, and undermined when she said she didn’t want one – after a 34-week scan revealed Aidan had Down syndrome .
The three plaintiffs argue that aborting a fetus with Down syndrome after the 24-week non-disabled fetus deadline is unlawful discrimination and “stereotypes and humiliates” disabled people.
You are bringing charges against the Minister of Health and Welfare, Sajid Javid.
Jason Coppel, plaintiff’s attorney, told the court this week about Crowter’s lengthy campaign to change the law.
He said: “Today is the final phase of a campaign she has participated in to change attitudes towards people with Down syndrome, and in particular a campaign to repeal what she believes is discriminatory provision of the 1967 Act.”
He said a diagnosis of Down syndrome was the most common reason for fetuses to be aborted after 24 weeks.
Coppel told the court that Heidi Crowter and Aidan Lea-Wilson were among the minority of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome who had not had an abortion and that they both now “live happy and fulfilling lives, as the evidence shows – the vast majority of people with Down syndrome ”.
He said the plaintiffs considered it “morally and ethically wrong to destroy a human life by virtue of a disability”.
And he said that the part of the abortion law that allows the later termination of fetuses that are likely to be born “severely disabled” (in the words of the legislation) – Section 1 (1) (d) – is “discriminatory and degrading”.
The three plaintiffs also want the court to declare that Down syndrome should not be considered a “serious disability” under the law.
The court heard that around 90 percent of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome in the UK will be aborted.
Coppel told the court that the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had asked the UK government four years ago to amend its abortion law lower than that of others and on abortion at any stage due to fetal impairment ”.
He also referred to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities who said in December 2019 that such an abortion policy “intensified” the message that disabled people “should not have been born.”
But Lord Justice Singh, one of the two Supreme Court justices who came on the case, alongside Ms. Justice Lieven, expressed concern about some of Coppel’s arguments.
He said, “Isn’t it obvious that the point is to give women a choice – whether or not to continue their pregnancy?”
He said there was “very strong evidence” of women “who are desperate to have a baby, learn of a severe disability very late in their pregnancy and do the best they can.”
“Sometimes the evidence suggests that out of love for the baby they are carrying, they choose to exercise the right granted by parliament [to have an abortion after 24 weeks].
“I’m not sure if it can be said that she should have just allowed the fetus to develop … as if that were all … if a woman had a child very late in pregnancy after the threshold of 24 weeks would like to learn that this child “will have a very severe disability.”
He said it was not a “fanciful” example to suggest that a disabled baby “may be in pain for the first few days, weeks, or perhaps months of life.”
He added: “If the law is inconsistent with the ECHR, Parliament would probably have to deny this woman this election in the circumstances.
“Is that correct? Is that the consequence then?”
Sir James Eadie, for the government, later told the court: “The question that arises in this case is where should society place limits on the criminalization of women in deciding whether or not to have an abortion?
“This question … raises profound social, moral and ethical questions and weighs a variety of different rights, interests and even beliefs.”
He said the legislation “essentially relates to the choices – in many cases, desperate and difficult decisions – that pregnant women face” and there is “no negative stereotyping of the disabled”.
He said that any decision a pregnant woman made to abort a disabled fetus “says nothing about her views on disability in general”.
Sir James added, “Nobody denies or can possibly deny … especially those of us who had the privilege of meeting Heidi yesterday … [that people with Down’s syndrome] can and do healthy, fulfilling lives and bring joy to those around them.
“But also… there are serious potential lifelong consequences that come with this condition in various forms.
“Not every family is well equipped to deal with these consequences emotionally or otherwise.”
The case ended yesterday (Wednesday), with the second day of the hearing being held entirely remotely after someone reported a positive COVID test with the court or the case.
At the announcement that the judgment was reserved for a future date, Lord Justice Singh said that it was “a very important and difficult case”.
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