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THE BALANCING OF RIGHTS

On the 6th July, Heidi Crowter and Aidan (with mum Máire) are going to the High Court to challenge the law that allows termination to full term if a baby has a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Jamie McCallum, chairman of Wouldn’t Change A Thing and dad to Rosie who has Down syndrome tells us why he’s joining the community to #HoldHands4Equality.

I can already feel the trepidation as I write these first few words of a blog that I know many will want to instantly pigeon-hole as something else. Something that I make a point of taking no position on. They will want to make my words about termination and a woman’s (couple’s) right to choose. I want to tell you right now – I am not writing about that subject.

The rights in question are not of parents, nor of unborn children, but of all people in society who have a disability. In particular, the equality, discrimination and the human rights of an often ignored community of people in this world. People who happen to have an extra chromosome. People with Down syndrome.

It may surprise you to know that a baby with Down syndrome can currently be terminated right up until birth. Some learned people even advocate a timescale beyond that. Yes – you heard me right. That means after birth. Infanticide, in other words.

As reprehensible as that latter opinion may sound to you – it’s difficult to see the relevance of the point in time that could occur only minutes prior, where it is currently acceptable under UK law. There are some people out there who have a real problem with this. Namely – people with Down syndrome.

One such brave young woman is 25-year-old Heidi Crowter, who tomorrow will take on the United Kingdom Government in its very own High Court to challenge the act of law that allows for this provision. She wants to know what is so bad about people like her that such extreme measures should be in place to avoid her very existence at all costs.

Imagine being in her shoes for a moment. Imagine an aspect of yourself that you consider to be utterly routine. Yet something which you fully value and embrace as part of what makes you who you are. Some genetically unavoidable trait of yourself like your gender, sexuality or the colour of your skin, for instance.

Then imagine tomorrow someone proposed a new law. One which will view that aspect of you as so abhorrent that future generations like you should be able to be terminated right up until the very last. How do you feel about that? Extremely uncomfortable I assume.

Finally I want you to imagine that, in the formation of this new law, no-one actually bothered to ask people like you – the very people targeted by this new law. Imagine that, even when you attempted to speak up about it, no-one considered your opinion worthy of being listened to.

Welcome to Heidi’s world.

Does all of that discomfort make you an anti-abortion campaigner all-of-a-sudden? No, of course it doesn’t, and neither is Heidi. In fact, Heidi’s position is supported by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

As you can now see, this is a more complex issue than it appears. The reason is that the attitudes we have to unborn disabled children can reflect and influence the perceived value that society as-a-whole places on adults with the same conditions. It implies that the contribution that they can make to society as they progress through their lives is non-existent and even detrimental. It is a life to be avoided, if possible. This follows them throughout their lives in the form of mistreatment, absent opportunities and low expectations.

This is wrong. No adult with Down syndrome, with all of the joy and benefits they bring to their families and communities, should have to consider such an institutional vote of no-confidence in their character and overt dismissal of the basic human rights and respect that most of us take for granted.

What Heidi is fighting for is nothing other than parity in the law for people like her to match that of everyone else in mainstream society. It happens to be about termination today, but the implications make it a simple but powerful landmark request that will help to equalise the rights and opportunities of all people with disabilities for many years to come.

Wouldn’t Change a Thing is supportive of any and all efforts to create equality and opportunity for people with Down syndrome, and for that reason, #ImWithHeidi