On July 2021, the UK High Court of Justice heard the Case CO/2066/2020 on the application of Heidi Crowter who lives with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome. Crowter and Lea-Wilson, with the support of the disability rights campaign, ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’, have been taking legal action against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (the UK Government) for a review of the 1967 Abortion Act: the removal of section 1(1)(d) making termination of pregnancy lawful for ‘severe’ fetal indications detected after 24 weeks' gestation. On 23 September 2021, the High Court dismissed the claim. This action came at a time when non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) was introduced into the NHS England Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme for the trisomies 21, 13 and 18. The implementation of NIPT has been heavily criticised, in particular by ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ campaigners, for increasing fetal selection and discrimination of people living with disabilities. The case of Crowter and Lea-Wilson echoes debates in other European countries such as in France and Germany, where the introduction of NIPT in the public healthcare system has provoked equally vehement public reactions and discussions. The comparison between these three countries allows contextualising the public discourses around NIPT and the ground for termination of pregnancy in relation to different socio-cultural and political contexts. We examine how each country, and particularly England, deals with the conflict between the principles of promoting the rights of people living with disabilities and preserving women’s reproductive autonomy.
Journal of Medical Ethics