A young woman with Down’s Syndrome is launching a legal bid to change the country’s abortion law, which she says is ‘downright discriminatory’ to people like her.
The legislation allows terminations after 24 weeks if ‘severe foetal abnormality’ is detected.
The only other circumstances in which abortions are legal after the 24-week point is if there is a mortal risk to the mother.
Heidi Crowter, 24, told The Mail on Sunday that the difference in the way unborn babies with Down’s are treated under the law ‘makes me feel upset and sad’.
She went on: ‘It makes me feel that I should not be alive. I feel like crying inside.’
Her case is being presented by solicitor Paul Conrathe of Sinclairslaw, who will lodge papers at the High Court this week.
He argues the lack of legal protection afforded to foetuses with serious abnormalities after 24 weeks has real consequences for how people with Down’s are viewed by others – and how they view themselves.
Mr Conrathe said Ms Crowter’s human rights ‘have been severely negatively impacted’ by the clause of the 1967 Abortion Act which allows late abortion on the grounds of disability.
Allowing such abortions infringes Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, he insisted, which is designed to ‘protect a right to identity and personal development’.
Ms Crowter, from Coventry, said of the current law: ‘It makes other people think that we should not be here. And it makes people think that we have fewer rights. But we should have the same rights.
‘We are still human beings. We have feelings.’
She continued: ‘I would like the abortion law changed, because it is downright discrimination in the womb.’
Down’s Syndrome is a genetic abnormality resulting from abnormal cell division of the parent’s sperm or egg, which causes the child to have too many copies of chromosome 21.
This extra genetic material triggers heart and gastro-intestinal disorders which often require surgery, and intellectual impairment.
It has more severe effects in some than others, both physically and mentally. In 2018, there were 618 abortions carried out in England and Wales because the foetus had Down’s.
Heidi’s mother Liz Crowter said her daughter had been assessed by a doctor as being ‘fit to litigate’, adding: ‘It’s quite clear she understands what’s being talked about and how she feels about it.’
Heidi works in a hairdresser’s salon, lives on her own – supported by carers – and has a fiance, who himself has Down’s. She said: ‘I love my life.’
Ms Crowter is joined in her legal bid by mother-of-two Máire Lea-Wilson, who claims she was ‘placed under intense pressure to abort her child’ when a 34-week scan revealed Down’s.
Ms Lea-Wilson, 30, an accountant from Brentford, West London, said: ‘At a time when I was scared and vulnerable, if felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby.’
She and husband Simon, 33, did not and she delivered Aidan last June. ‘Aidan is a little ray of sunshine. I would not change him for the world,’ she added.
Aidan has an older brother, Tom, who is three. Ms Lea-Wilson said: ‘I love and value them equally, so I don’t see why they are not valued equally by the law.
‘Our case is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion. It’s about the specific instance of inequality in the law, whereby for a child without disability the legal limit is 24 weeks, but you can have an abortion right up to full term with a child that does have a disability. That just feels wrong.’