Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(1) February 2023


Codswallop in the Court of Appeal?
Heidi Crowter case and Down’s Syndrome

The Court of Appeal ruled on 24th November against Heidi Crowter and her fellow claimant and held that the UK's abortion law does not violate the ECHR even though it allows abortion up to birth for Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities.

Heidi, a woman with Down’s Syndrome sued the UK Government for discrimination. Heidi argued that allowing pregnancy terminations up to birth if the foetus has the condition is discriminatory and stigmatises disabled people. In their summary of the decision, judges appeared to state that the ability to kill unborn people with Downs Syndrome, does not impact the rights and dignity of people with the same condition who have been born. The Judges, (Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson), said the act did not interfere with the rights of the “living disabled”.

They said: “The court recognises that many people with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities will be upset and offended by the fact that a diagnosis of serious disability during pregnancy is treated by the law as a justification for termination, and that they may regard it as implying that their own lives are of lesser value.

But [the court] holds that a perception that that is what the law implies is not by itself enough to give rise to an interference with article 8 rights [to private and family life, enshrined in the European convention on human rights].”

In other words a law that people with Downs Syndrome may be aborted before birth, does not impact upon the rights and dignity of people after birth. Perhaps because unborn children have no rights as a person in UK law until they are born. In short, unborn people are not the same sort of Human Beings. Which of course, looks to many of us as complete codswallop.

Heidi said she was “absolutely distraught” by the ruling and the existing law made her feel that people like her should be “extinct”.

After the ruling, and outside the Courts of Justice, Heidi and her mother, Liz, said they would take the case to the Supreme Court.

Heidi said: “I will not stop until I am seen as equal in society.”

She told Sky News that “It makes me feel that I shouldn’t be here. That I should be extinct. I know that’s not true, but that’s how it makes me feel.” She highlighted how the law treated her newly born nephew. “I was flabbergasted that the law protects him and not me,” she said.

She said to the Guardian newspaper: “I am very upset not to win again, but I will keep on fighting because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law.”
Heidi also said: ‘It makes me feel that I shouldn’t be here. That I should be extinct.’