Church leaders are to consider a campaign aimed at reducing the number of abortions carried out on pregnant women carrying children with Down’s Syndrome.
The Church of England Synod in February will be presented with a motion that calls for expectant mothers to be given “comprehensive, unbiased information” about their options.
And it has been welcomed by Huddersfield Down Syndrome Support Group.
The move has been sparked by a planned NHS roll-out of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) for high-risk women, which would allow Down’s to be indicated by a simple blood test.
A report prepared for the Synod in London says huge advances in the “lived experience” of people with Down’s have been made in the last 30 years.
But the tests mean “the place within society of people with Down’s Syndrome and even their possible future existence are now under question.”
The Rev Dr Brendan MCCarthy, the CoE’s national adviser on medical ethics, told a press conference in London: “In valuing people with Down’s Syndrome it is difficult to say that we value you and we will continue to value you if people like you disappear completely.
“That’s a difficult thing to hold together.
“While it obviously is the woman’s choice what to do with her pregnancy, our hope is that with full information, with up-to-date information and with information provided in the way we have been mentioning, significant numbers of women will choose to continue with their pregnancy.
“That will certainly enable not just the church, but will enable society, to continue to value and celebrate people with Down’s Syndrome, because there is a lot to value and a lot to celebrate.”
Huddersfield Down Syndrome Support Group secretary Ruth Smith said: “As a group we believe it is crucial to challenge outdated thinking and spread current, accurate information about Down Syndrome. We believe that mothers should be given full and accurate information about Down Syndrome at all stages of the testing process and should be under no pressure either to have the test or to undergo a termination.
“While the medical world often paints a negative picture of Down Syndrome we have members of all ages across Huddersfield who are living happy, healthy and full lives, much loved by their families and a valued part of their local communities. I would say that the joy and love brought by a child with Down Syndrome is immeasurable.”
A report, Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome, will be presented at the Synod, which is meeting from February 8 to February 10.
Written by Mark Sheard, chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, it notes that life expectancy for those with Down’s Syndrome has increased from 25 in 1970 to 60 today.
It adds: “In countries such as Iceland and Denmark, which have almost universal screening and close to 100% termination rates, there is a real possibility that people with Down’s Syndrome will effectively disappear from their populations.
“With a post-screening abortion rate of 90% within the UK, the introduction and potential widespread use of NIPT requires a timely debate on its possible consequences.”
He said 482 pregnancies with a Down’s diagnosis were terminated in 2010, rising to 706 in 2016, despite a 6,000 fall on overall termination numbers in the same period.