Abortion: Court to rule on legal bid to ban termination of babies with disabilities after 24 weeks

22 September 2021, 21:00 | Updated: 23 September 2021, 02:20

A high court judgement is expected later that could prevent unborn babies with disabilities, including Down's syndrome, being aborted after 24 weeks. 

A 26-year-old with Downs' syndrome is among those who brought the case that is seeking to overturn the current Abortion Act that allows parents to terminate pregnancies where there is a severe foetal abnormality at any time up until birth.

Abortions can take place in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales.

They must be approved by two doctors, who agree that having the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination.

After 24 weeks a woman can have an abortion if she is at risk of grave physical and mental injury, or if the foetus has a disability, including Down's syndrome.

Heidi Carter, who got married last year, believes the existing abortion law as it stands is "downright discriminatory".

"I don't like to have to justify my existence, it makes me feel like I'm not as valuable as anyone else. It makes me feel like I shouldn't be here," she said.

The joint legal action is also being brought by Maire Lea-Wilson, the mother of a baby with Down's syndrome.

Mrs Lea-Wilson said she "can't imagine life" without her son, and wants unborn children with Down's syndrome to have "equal rights".

"I have two sons and I absolutely love and value them equally and I really think the law should as well," she said.

"The case has been really hard work, it's been quite emotional and quite draining at times but I just so strongly believe that Aidan deserves to be treated and seen equally and I would hate for him to grow up and become aware of this law and feel hurt by it, so I will keep fighting for him."

However, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) say women must have the right to "make difficult decisions in heart-breaking situations".

Chief Executive of BPAS, Clare Murphy, says a change in the law will "force women to continue pregnancies with multiple anomalies to term and give birth where the chances of survival are unclear or unknown".

She says the distinction between a fatal or non-fatal foetal abnormality is "not a clear white line" and women should be able to make difficult decisions in the "context of significant medical complexities".

Mrs Murphy says the current law gives women time to understand the implications of a diagnosis, and not feel rushed into a decision.

"Conditions which are diagnosed later in pregnancy can be incredibly complex and very difficult for women and their partners," she said.

"Women are the ones who are best placed in these circumstances to work out what is right for them in the context of their own lives."

She believes a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy "must be seen as separate" to a society that promotes equal rights for people with disabilities.

The judgement is expected at 10.30am.