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17% increase in Down’s syndrome abortions since 2019, according to latest statistics

by | Jun 5, 2024

By Right to Life UK

The annual abortion statistics for 2022 released by the Department of Health and Social Care last month, reveal there were 799 abortions where a baby had Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2022, a 17% increase from 2019 when there were 685.

The statistics also show there were 19 late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had Down’s syndrome for residents of England and Wales, a 58% increase on 2019 where there were 12.

The statistics also reveal there were 3,124 abortions for babies with disabilities for residents of England and Wales in 2022 and 256 of these took place at 24 weeks gestation or over.

In 2022, there were 46 abortions where the baby had a cleft lip and palate for residents of England and Wales, an increase of 15% from 2021. Of these 46 abortions, 6 took place at 24 weeks and over.

Spokesperson for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, Lynn Murray, said “As a mother of a 24-year-old daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her.

“It is deeply concerning that despite the leaps that advocacy groups have made in raising awareness in support of people with Down’s syndrome, abortion in the case of Down’s syndrome is still so commonplace and widespread in the UK. In fact, we hear from parents all the time how abortion was repeatedly presented to them in the hospital as an obvious solution following the receipt of the news that their baby had Down’s syndrome.

“In England and Wales, around 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. This raises questions for the Government about the purpose of prenatal screening and a law which encourages this situation to occur,” she added.

The abortion numbers for babies with Down’s syndrome have come out at the same time as it was revealed there were a record 252,122 abortions in England and Wales in 2022, an increase of 37,253 (17.34%) from 2021.

Disability abortion in the UK

Under the current law, abortion is permitted up to birth if a baby is prenatally diagnosed with a disability, including Down’s syndrome. However, before Parliament was dissolved in anticipation of the upcoming General Election,

Sir Liam Fox MP tabled [introduced] an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that was signed by over 76 MPs to stop abortion up to birth for babies with Down’s syndrome.

Although the amendment will now not be voted on, it has helped build further momentum for change to stop abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome.

The abortion time limit under Section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act is set at 24 weeks, but for cases in which a baby is thought to have a disability, including Down’s syndrome, abortion is currently available up to birth.

Figures released on March 28, 2024 show that 87.26% of all babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in England and the Crown Dependencies were screened out by abortion in 2021.

The actual numbers are probably higher than reported due to underreporting of disability abortion statistics. A 2013 review showed 886 abortions for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in abortion statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health and Social Care review.

The private availability of Cell-Free DNA testing (otherwise known as Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing or ‘NIPT’) is likely already leading to an increase in the numbers of children with Down’s syndrome being screened out by abortion. The rolling-out of these tests on the NHS, which was already recommending the private tests to expectant mothers, may also be having an impact on the number of abortions.

An investigation by The Sunday Times found that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new form of screening.

The figures, which were released by 26 hospital trusts in England under freedom of information requests, account for about a fifth of the hospital trusts that offer maternity services. They show that more women who have the new test go on to have abortions.

This situation is set to get worse as the Government’s evaluative implementation of NIPT as part of the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme gets underway.

Polling has shown that the majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland think that disability should not be a ground for abortion at all, with only one in three people thinking it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said

“The continued discrimination against unborn babies with Down’s syndrome alongside the increase in the numbers of abortions in which the baby had Down’s syndrome since 2019 is a cause of great concern.

“The fact that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists felt the need to release guidelines in 2020 urging doctors to be ‘non-directional’ and stating that women must not be pressured to abort, is an indicator of how widespread the negative attitude towards babies with Down’s syndrome is. Despite the guidance, we see this negative attitude being reflected in the continued high rates of abortion in the cases of Down’s syndrome.”

She concluded, “Sir Liam Fox’s ongoing attempt to change the abortion law for babies with Down’s syndrome will act as a step towards changing attitudes in a more positive direction for babies with Down’s syndrome”.

Categories: Down Syndrome