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ss triple helix - Spring 2020,  Challenging discriminatory abortion laws

Challenging discriminatory abortion laws

Court case argues for the rights of disabled infants
Review by Steve Fouch CMF Head of Communications
Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down's syndrome, is taking out a landmark case against the UK Government over its current abortion law, which allows abortion up to birth for Down syndrome. [1]

Arguing that both the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [2] and the Disability Rights Commission [3] have criticised UK laws which allow the termination until birth of children with non-lethal disabilities, they are challenging current legislation on the grounds of discrimination against people with disabilities.

With the recent legalisation-through-the-back-door of abortion in Northern Ireland, [4] an open letter has been sent to the British Prime Minister by nearly 2,000 members of the UK Down's community asking him not to allow such a discriminatory provision to come into Northern Ireland law at the end of March. [5]

A consultation on how abortion law provisions would come into effect closed in December 2019. CMF was among several organisations arguing against abortion up to birth for disabilities. [6] Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where children with Down syndrome are not routinely aborted. [7] In the rest of the UK, 90 per cent of Down's babies are terminated. [8] In some parts of Scandinavia, that figure is closer to 100 per cent. [9] The Down's community argues that if this rate of termination was allowed for gender, race or other characteristics, there would be an outcry. But British society seems increasingly blind and uncaring towards those living with disabilities and does not seem to want to 'waste time' hearing what they and their supporters have to say on this and many other issues. So, it remains to be seen if these arguments will be listened to in the current parliamentary climate.

While Crowter's court case and the Northern Ireland open letter make it clear that this is primarily a matter of disability rights, the pro-choice movement is strongly arguing for a radical opening up of abortion law and the removal of all current safeguards. [10] We are set up for a head-on clash around competing sets of rights and freedoms. The voices of the marginalised and vulnerable are in danger of being silenced yet again.

1. Press release - Woman with Down's syndrome launches landmark case against UK Govt over discriminatory abortion law: Don't' Screen Us Out. 23 February 2020.
2. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 3 October 2017
3. As quoted in Disability in the Foetus. BBC Ethics Guide. 2014.
4. Pollock J. Abortion in Northern Ireland: Devolving the problem? Triple Helix. Winter 2019.
5. Press release - 2000 people with Down's syndrome and families call on Govt not to introduce abortion up to birth for Down's syndrome to NI, as case is taken against Govt for similar law in England and Wales. Don't Screen Us Out. 28 February 2020.
6. A New Legal Framework for Abortion Services in Northern Ireland: CMF Submission to the UK Government. 17 December 2019.
7. Morris J, Springett A. The National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register for England and Wales: 2013 Annual Report. December 2014.
8. Ibid.
9. Will G F. The real Down syndrome problem: Accepting genocide. Washington Post. 14 March 2018.
10. The campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK.
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