Meet the mother challenging the UK’s Down syndrome abortion law

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Crowter’s words resonated with Lea-Wilson, who had given birth to her second son, Aidan, in June 2019.

“I had discovered that Aidan would likely be born with Down syndrome when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and then was asked repeatedly if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy,” she told CNA in an email interview.

“Suddenly the way I was treated changed from an excited parent expecting a second child, to a woman facing a great tragedy who had to make a ‘choice’ — to abort my pregnancy or not.”

“I have two sons who I love and value equally, so I cannot understand why the law does not value them equally.”

She decided to write an open letter to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock explaining why she stood alongside Crowter in opposition to the disability clause in the Abortion Act 1967.

Section 1(1)(d) of the Act permits abortion up to birth if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

She wrote: “I have two sons. Both are headstrong, determined, independent spirits and loving. As their mother, they need me to care for them, to teach them about the world, to love them and to value them.”

“As their mother, I can tell you I value them equally; but it appears that the law does not. The reason for this is that one of them has Down’s Syndrome, and the other does not.”

Lea-Wilson’s post was widely shared and brought her into contact with Heidi’s mother, Liz Crowter, and her solicitor. Together, they discussed how her experience could contribute to a legal case.

Máire Lea-Wilson with her sons, Tom and Aidan. / Courtesy photo.
Máire Lea-Wilson with her sons, Tom and Aidan. / Courtesy photo.

She said: “It means so much that we have the opportunity to change the law. As a mother, all I want for my son is for him to be treated fairly and equally. In his short life, we have already experienced so much discrimination. I am often asked: ‘Did you know he had Down syndrome before he was born?’”

“The implication of that question, that surely I must not have or I would have terminated the pregnancy, is incredibly hurtful and it does not afford him the value or the dignity which he deserves.”

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“I truly believe that this law, which differentiates the time limit for abortion based on disability, allows a narrative to prevail where people with disabilities are valued less and thought of as a burden on their family and society more broadly.”

While she has not yet met with Heidi Crowter in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, she has had the “absolute honor” of getting to know her fellow High Court applicant via Zoom calls.

“I can think of few times in my life when I’ve laughed more,” she commented. “She is brilliant.”

The two women are being supported by the group Don’t Screen Us Out, formed amid concerns at the U.K. government’s backing of a new prenatal test expected to lead to a rise in Down syndrome-related abortions.

There were 3,183 abortions on the basis of disability recorded in England and Wales in 2019, 656 of them following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Abortion on the basis of disability is also a common practice in other European countries. The number of babies with Down syndrome born in Europe fell by half between 2011 and 2015, according to a study in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

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