May 25, 2024

Why is it illegal to end a ‘healthy’ pregnancy at six months, but allowed if the foetus is potentially disabled?

On Friday, 25 November, Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down’s syndrome, lost her case at the court of appeal over a law that allows late-stage terminations of foetuses with certain health conditions.

Crowter argued that allowing pregnancy terminations up to birth if the foetus has a certain medical condition is discriminatory and stigmatises disabled people.

Under the current UK law, terminations are only allowed up until twenty-four weeks – unless, according to the 1967 abortion act, “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. ”

As a disabled, pro-choice woman, this is something I’m finding really hard to get my head around.

On the one hand, I believe without a shadow of a doubt in a woman’s right to choose and that no one should be forced to carry a baby against their will. But on the other, it makes me mad and sad that disabled life is presented as so desperately awful that pregnancies are allowed to be terminated right up until birth.

“It makes me mad and sad that disabled life is presented as so desperately awful that pregnancies are allowed to be terminated right up until birth. ”

I want to make it clear that I absolutely do not want to restrict abortions for anyone – to be honest, I believe abortions should be allowed for all at any stage for anyone who wants one, for whatever reason.

What does it say about how we view disability that it’s illegal to end a «healthy» pregnancy at six months, but if the foetus is potentially disabled, it’s okay?

I used to think of this as a cut-and-dry issue; aborting babies because they’re disabled is eugenics; it’s killing people because of their disabilities, and that bleeds into how people see me as a disabled person. But this is a very complex issue, and there should be room for nuanced discussion.

Firstly, the Abortion Act is severely outdated, especially regarding the language used. Handicapped is a word we no longer use. There’s also the use of emotive words such as “suffering” has no place in a legal document.

“When you’ve been raised in a society that sees disability as tragic and then told your child will have a low quality of life, termination can seem like the logical option. ”

This also translates into how the news of a possible disability is delivered to expecting parents by medical professionals. More often than not, parents are told of how awful their circumstance is and presented with termination like it’s the logical choice; this feels incredibly manipulative. When you’ve been raised in a society that sees disability as tragic and then told your child will have a low quality of life, termination can seem like the logical option.

This narrative comes from how disabled people are seen in society; often, we’re only portrayed as sad little disabled people struggling with our lives or objects of inspiration to non-disabled people – if this disabled woman can run a marathon, what’s stopping you?

When we only focus on this version of disability, we miss out on the vibrant full picture of disabled life. The amazing community that is there for the tears and laughter. The way we fight for everyone and the massive strides we’re taking in our fight for inclusion.

Of course, I’m not saying this is ever an easy decision to make or one that parents don’t live with for a long time, but if the situation wasn’t seen as so dire and presented in such an intense way, I think it would make a difference.

But there’s no escaping the reality of raising and caring for a disabled child. It is tough, and support for disabled children and their parents is seriously lacking. Benefits aren’t enough when your child needs specialist equipment and food, and you must take taxis everywhere.

The education system still massively fails disabled kids; accessible housing is still woefully low and unstable. Most of the world is massively inaccessible when you’re disabled; just ask anyone who’s been happily pootling along a path and found they can’t get off the end of it.

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