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Down’s syndrome case fails but appeal is announced

A legal claim that the right to abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome up to birth in England and Wales is discriminatory has been rejected by the High Court.

Nicola Laver

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Heidi Crowter

The judicial review was brought by campaigners Heidi Crowther, who has Down’s Syndrome, and Maire Lea-Wilson whose 2-year-old son also has Down’s, against the health secretary.

It was argued that section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including the right to life (Article 2), the right to respect for private life (Article 8) and the right to freedom from discrimination (Article 14).

The court said there is no precedent from the European Court of Human Rights that a foetus has rights (such as the right to life) under the ECHR.

The court relied in part on a European Court ruling from 2011 in which it stated that most EU member states 'have in their legislation resolved the conflicting rights of the foetus and the mother in favour of greater access to abortion'.

Furthermore, the court ruled that the 1967 Act did not interfere with Article 8 or Article 14 rights. But even if it did, the court said this was lawful and  objectively justified as a proportionate measure in striking a balance between the rights of pregnant women and the interests of the foetus.

It is important to note that judges are confined to ruling on the prevailing law and not the ethical or religious considerations of any of the parties.

The ruling will be appealed to the Court of Appeal.