A woman with Down syndrome has lost an appeal court over late-stage abortions of fetuses with certain health conditions.
Heidi Crowter, who brought the case with Máire Lea-Wilson, whose son Aidan also has Down syndrome, had argued that allowing pregnancy terminations up to birth if the fetus has the condition is discriminatory and stigmatizes disabled people.
But in a ruling on Friday, three senior judges rejected the appeal, saying the abortion law was up to Parliament to decide.
Crowter, 27, said she was “absolutely devastated” by the sentence and the existing law made her feel people like her should be “extinct”.
In a summary of the decision by Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, the judges said the act does not interfere with the rights of “living disabled”.
They said: “The court recognizes that many people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities will be upset and offended that a diagnosis of severe disability during pregnancy is treated by law as grounds for dismissal and that they may regard it as implying, that their own lives are of less value.
“But it is true that a perception that this is what the law entails is not in itself enough to give rise to interference with Article 8 rights [to private and family life, enshrined in the European convention on human rights].”
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the ruling, Crowter and her mother, Liz, said they would take the case to the High Court.
Crowter, who is from Coventry, said: “I will not stop until I am seen as an equal in society.”
Asked why she wanted to change the law, Crowter told Sky News: “It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be here. That I should be extinct. I know that’s not true, but it is that’s how it makes me feel.”
She highlighted how the law treated her newborn nephew. “I was amazed that the law protects him and not me,” she said.
Crowter also said: “I am very sorry not to win again, but I will continue to fight because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law.
“I am very sad that babies with Down syndrome can be aborted up to birth. This tells me that I am not valued and of much less value than someone without Down syndrome. I’m angry that the judges say my feelings don’t matter. It makes me feel like I’m not as valuable as someone without Down syndrome.
“When we first started this lawsuit, not many people knew about the law, but now many, many people know about the law thanks to us and your amazing support. We want to thank everyone who has donated their time and money to our lawsuit.”
But Guardian columnist Frances Ryan spoke out against restricting access to abortion. Ryan, the author of Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People, tweeted: “If you want to talk about the inequality of raising a disabled child, campaign for higher benefits, better childcare and accessible housing. Forcing a woman to give birth against her will is not disability rights.”
Emma Vogelmann, a disability rights activist who has spinal muscular atrophy, agreed. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, she said: “When we start talking about restricting access to abortion, we are ultimately taking away a woman’s autonomy and choice to do what she wants with her own body. We’re seeing some really dangerous conversations going on around a woman’s right to access an abortion with or without a fetal abnormality.”
Vogelmann added: “I have a condition that would have allowed my parents to terminate their pregnancy with me … I don’t see it as a judgment on my life and my quality of life if someone were to terminate a pregnancy with my condition .
“There are so many bigger issues that we face instead of what a woman chooses before we’re born. We face discrimination every day from all kinds of people. And I think those conversations need to be much more widespread.
“Having a child is a huge responsibility anyway, and I think that with a disability there are going to be many extra struggles that the parent is going to have. It really has to be considered if a woman is able to commit to that, if they are going to be able to give a child the best possible chance in life.”