Home > Cases > Abortion laws permitting termination of those with Down’s syndrome challenged in High Court

In R (Crowter) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the High Court (Singh LJ and Lieven J) is hearing this week a challenge by three claimants who argue that the current law on abortion breaches the human rights of those with Down’s syndrome.

Section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967 permits abortion where “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”. Two registered medical practitioners have to come to this opinion in good faith. Importantly, there is no time limit on the application of this provision, meaning that it can be invoked throughout a woman’s pregnancy.

The claimants (two of whom have Down’s syndrome and one of whom is a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome) argue that this provision is incompatible with Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (right to be free from torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) insofar as it permits anytime after 24 weeks’ gestation abortion of fetuses, particularly those with Down’s syndrome, many of whom would otherwise go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.

News reports of the case can be seen on BBC News, and in the Times and the Guardian.

Julia Smyth and Yaaser Vanderman are instructed on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

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