Down’s syndrome campaigner Heidi Crowter: Abortion services shouldn’t be imposed on people of NI

A woman with Down’s syndrome says people in Northern Ireland ‘should be able to make their own laws’ as the secretary of state prepares to take up powers to force the NI Executive to roll out abortion services.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:29 am

Abortion laws in NI were controversially relaxed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 after the Assembly had been collapsed.

They were later narrowly rejected in a non-binding vote by MLAs.

New regulations around abortion came into operation in NI a year ago but as services have not yet been formally commissioned some women are reportedly still travelling to GB for abortions.

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Anti-abortion campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down's Syndrome and is working with campaign group Don't Screen Us Out in support of a DUP bill to cut down abortions in cases of non-fatal disabilities.

As the Executive is apparently divided on rolling out the services, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is set to lay regulations in Parliament today that will give him the power to direct any NI minister or department to roll out abortion services.

But Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome, disagreed with his move.

“I think Northern Ireland should be able to make their own rules,” she told the News Letter in a video interview.

“They are their own people and they should have a say in their laws.

“It upsets me that they can lose control and they might force something on them they do not want to do. I think that you shouldn’t force something on people that they don’t want.”

Heidi, who is from Coventry, is campaigning with a UK-wide group called ‘Don’t Screen us Out’ to ensure proposed genetic prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome is done ethically.

“The reason I feel so strongly about abortion is because I am someone who has Down’s syndrome,” she said. “And I don’t want people to see me as ‘a devastating diagnosis’ or ‘a crisis pregnancy’.

“I want them to see the real me. I don’t want to be treated differently because of my [extra] chromosome.”

Aged 25, she is a social media manager for a hair salon and lives with her husband of almost a year.

She has been backing a recent DUP-led bill in the Assembly to give more protections to pregnancies where non-fatal disabilities are detected.

Her mother Liz Crowter said she was hurt by Down’s syndrome being described as “a devastating diagnosis” during a recent Assembly debate on the bill.

She was offered prenatal screening before Heidi was born but turned it down because of her Christian faith. 

“In hindsight finding out might have helped me prepare myself for Heidi’s birth but it wouldn’t have changed my decision to keep her,” she said.

“I am delighted and proud to be her mum. I am thankful for her and all she does, the joy and amusement she brings to every situation.”

Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party back Mr Lewis taking control of abortion commissioning. The DUP, UUP and TUV as well as the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Free Presbyterian churches have expressed concern at the impact on devolution.

:: Would you like to tell your personal experience of abortion provision in Northern Ireland? Email: [email protected]

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