Heidi Crowter speaks outside the High Court in London England, July 6, 2021. / Don’t Screen Us Out via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

London, England, May 20, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

An English woman with Down syndrome is taking her fight against the U.K.’s abortion laws to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  

Heidi Crowter, from Coventry in the U.K., says that the current legislation discriminates against people with disabilities by allowing abortion up to birth if the fetus has a condition such as Down syndrome. The 27-year-old mother, who actively campaigns on social media, announced her decision to appeal to the ECHR this week after the country’s Supreme Court refused to hear her case. 

Crowter has been campaigning for a change in the law since 2018, when she joined a legal challenge brought by another mother whose son has Down syndrome.  

She argues that the law sends a message that people with disabilities are not valued equally and that it violates their human rights. “In 2023, we live in a society where disabled people are valued equally after birth but not in the womb,” she said in a statement.

The U.K. government defends the law as a balance between the rights of women and the rights of the unborn child. It says that abortion is a personal choice and that women should have access to safe and legal services. The Court of Appeal ruled in November 2022 that the law was not unlawful and did not interfere with the rights of the living disabled. 

Crowter’s case has attracted support from disability-rights groups and pro-life organizations. Ross Hendry, CEO of CARE, a Christian charity that advocates for life issues, said: “It is completely wrong that disability is a ground for abortion up to birth. Would we accept a law allowing babies to be aborted to term based on their sex, or their race? The current approach sends a message that the lives of people with disabilities are worth less than others.” 

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out whose daughter Rachel has Down syndrome, said: “It’s inspiring to see that Heidi is now going to be taking her landmark case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. As a mother of a 23-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her.” 

Currently in England, Wales, and Scotland, there is a general 24-week time limit for abortion, but if the baby has a disability, including Down syndrome, cleft lip, and club foot, abortion is legal right up to birth. There were 3,370 disability-selective abortions in 2021, a 9% increase from 3,083 in 2020. The number of late-term abortions at 24 weeks’ gestation or over where the baby has a disability increased by 20% from 229 to 274. 

If Crowter wins her case at the ECHR in Strasbourg, it could have implications for all 46 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which are bound by its rulings. Crowter hopes that her case will inspire others to stand up for their rights and dignity.

“I am taking this case to Strasbourg because it is downright discrimination that people with disabilities are treated differently,” she said. 

The ECHR’s decision is expected to be issued sometime in 2023.

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