Ruling reopens conversation about abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome

“There is a huge range of ways that Christians can make a difference”, says Mark Arnold, who works supporting ‘additional needs’ families in the UK.

Joel Forster , Evangelical Focus

LONDON · 29 NOVEMBER 2022 · 14:13 CET

Heidi Crowter speaks to the media after learning her appeal had been dismissed. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Twitter Heidi Crowter</a>.,
Heidi Crowter speaks to the media after learning her appeal had been dismissed. / Photo: Twitter Heidi Crowter.

An effort to change the law in the United Kingdom that allows the abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome up until birth was unsuccessful.

The Court of Appelas rejected the challenge of Heidi Crowter, a 27-year-old woman who has Down’s syndrome.

The Abortion Act, the court ruled, does not violate the right of the “living disabled”. But “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”, the court added.

Cowter, who spoke after knowing the decision supported by her husband (also with Down's syndrome) and other relatives, said she would “keep on fighting because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law”.

The British Pregnancy Adivsory Service, which provides abortion services in the UK, expressed its agreement with the ruling, saying the UK legislation gives no “human rights” to foetuses. A poskespoerson also argued that the right of women “not just to abortion, but to making their own decisions during childbirth” would have been attacked if the appeal had been successfull.

Mark Arnold, a speaker and trainer working as director of the Additional Needs Ministry of Christian organisation Urban Saints, responded to questions of Evangelical Focus about this case.

Question. Please tell us a bit more about the context of this recent ruling.

Answer. The Abortion Act, which is the relevant current legislation for England, Wales and Scotland, states that there is a 24-week time limit for abortion, unless “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”. This somewhat outdated term includes Down’s syndrome.

Heidi Crowther appealed against the Abortion Act on the grounds that it discriminated against her and others with Down’s Syndrome and “doesn't respect my life”. The Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the Abortion Act doesn’t interfere with the rights of living disabled people, and so ruled against Heidi and her team.

Q. Heidi Crowter said she was happy that despite losing the appeal, her campaign was able to change the thinking of many. Do you agree?

A. This case has certainly raised the profile of this important discussion. It is hard to say whether it has changed the thinking of many, or whether it has just more deeply entrenched the positions of the pro-life and pro-choice communities.

The heat that surrounds this debate in the USA has probably had some effect here too. It might have drawn people who hadn’t thought about this much in one direction or the other, but I don’t think a resolution is any nearer; both ‘sides’ are claiming positives from this outcome and so the debate will continue to rage.

Q. What are Christians doing to make a difference in this whole debate about disability and the right to life? And what could Christians do better?

A. There is a huge range of ways that Christians can make, and are making, a difference in this whole debate. Whether it is pastorally supporting people making these incredibly difficult decisions, linking people to appropriate support networks, or by helping and supporting people that go ahead with their pregnancy and have a disabled child to raise their child as a valued part of their church family.

We need more churches to step up and help families in these positive ways. It breaks my heart when I see and hear women who have taken the tough choice to terminate their pregnancy being harshly judged and branded as 'murderers'. Let's learn from Jesus who showed compassion and care, who reached out to people in their time of need; he still does and so should we.

Mark Arnold writes about families, church, and disability in his Evangelical Focus column. You can find more about his work by visiting the “Additional Needs Blogfather” website.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - Ruling reopens conversation about abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome

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