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Woman with Down syndrome loses bid to lower abortion limit

A woman with Down syndrome has lost a lawsuit in an appeals court over legislation allowing babies with the condition to be aborted until birth.

Heidi Crowter, 27, from Coventry, has filed legal action against the Department for Health and Social Care in hopes of scrapping a section of the abortion law she believes is an “example of inequality”.

Judges ruled last September that the legislation is not illegal and aims to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and women.

The case was reconsidered by the Court of Appeal at a hearing in July.

In England, Wales and Scotland there is a 24 week deadline for an abortion.

But the law allows terminations until birth if “there is a significant risk that the child will suffer at birth such physical or mental abnormalities as to render it severely disabled,” which includes Down syndrome.

Jason Coppell KC, representing Ms Crowter, and Maire Lea-Wilson, the mother of Aidan, a young boy with Down syndrome who is appealing alongside Ms Crowter, told the court in July: “The effect is life stereotyping people as disabled, or severely disabled, people as not worth living in and certainly less than living as a non-disabled person, which impacts the self-esteem and self-confidence of disabled people like Ms Crowter.”

He said the language used in the law was “outdated” and considered by some to be offensive and unacceptable.

But in a ruling on Friday, three senior judges dismissed the appeal.

Summarizing the decision of Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, the judges said the law did not interfere with the rights of the “living disabled”.

They said: “The court recognizes that many people with Down syndrome and other disabilities will be angry and offended that a diagnosis of severe disability during pregnancy is treated by law as justifying termination of pregnancy and that they may view such as meaning that their own lives are of lesser value.

“But it considers that the perception that the law implies this is not, in itself, sufficient to constitute an interference with the rights of Article 8 (to private and family life, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights).”

Down syndrome, a result of being accidentally born with an extra chromosome, results in a degree of disability – some people can be independent and have a job, while others require more regular care.

In their judgment last year, Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven concluded that legislation is a matter for Parliament, which can consider a range of views, rather than the courts.

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