Lynn Murray is a spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out.

This week, MPs must take a stand against discrimination towards babies with disabilities

As a mother of a daughter with Down’s syndrome and spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out – a group of over 17,000 people with Down’s syndrome, their families, and supporters who are working to build a United Kingdom where people with Down’s syndrome are valued and have an equal chance of being born – I strongly support the amendment, NC52, tabled to the Health and Care Bill by Carla Lockhart MP.

Supported by a cross-party alliance of MPs, it would introduce an upper gestational limit on abortion on the grounds of disability equal to the limit on most other abortions.

Our organisation works to help reform unfair legislation, policies and practice, alongside helping to build a more positive culture that accepts and embraces people with Down’s syndrome.

Our fundamental goal is equality, including equal treatment of both the unborn with disabilities and those without disabilities. The current abortion law, through its discriminatory time limits, dramatically fails to deliver this.

Unbeknownst to many members of the public, abortion is allowed up to birth in England and Wales 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.” This has been interpreted to include Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubfoot, meaning abortion is legal up to birth based solely on a primary diagnosis of one of these entirely non-fatal conditions that are far from ‘serious handicaps’.

By contrast, in most other cases, abortion is only available until 24 weeks’ gestation for babies not found to have a congenital condition. Therefore, the law is inconsistent with disability-equality legislation by permitting abortion on the grounds of disability more widely than most abortions, without justification.

recent High Court case was brought against the Government for allowing disability discrimination in abortion by Heidi Crowter, 26, who has Down’s syndrome and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose son has Down’s syndrome. Crowter has consistently described how the current law “makes me feel that my life is not as valuable as anyone else’s”, whilst Lea-Wilson was “placed under intense pressure” to have an abortion after a 34-week scan revealed her son had Down’s syndrome.

Both Crowter and and Lea-Wilson are seeking permission for their case to be taken to the Court of Appeal.

As argued by the claimants in the recent case, section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967, which allows for abortion on the grounds of disability without any upper gestational limit, is incompatible with Article 2 (Right to life) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by “permitting abortion in circumstances where, and at a time at which, it would not be permitted in the case of a non-disabled child.”

It is not just those living with those Down’s syndrome who have serious concerns about disability discrimination before birth. The Disability Rights Commission have said this aspect of the Abortion Act “is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability… [and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.

Tragically, abortions on the grounds of disability after 24 weeks’ gestation continue to steadily increase, seeing around a 55 per cent increase since 2010 and an over 140 per cent increase over the past twenty years.

Surely, it is inconsistent for Parliament to pass laws (such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 that expressly prohibit discrimination on grounds of disability after birth, yet allow another law to remain that expressly provides for lethal discrimination through termination on grounds of disability up to birth?

Parliamentarians should know that there is substantial public support for change to our laws in this area. Polling from Savanta ComRes shows that only one in three people think it is acceptable to ban abortion on the grounds of sex or race but allow it for disability.

On the last occasion that Parliament addressed abortion on the grounds of disability, they found that the “vast majority of those who gave written evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act and does affect wider public attitudes towards discrimination.”

Now, Parliament should heed the advice of those campaigning against disability discrimination and amend our abortion law to ensure our society can be a place of disability equality both before and after birth.”