Editor’s note. “Emmerdale” is a popular British soap opera which introduced a story line in which a couple decides to abort their baby after a diagnosis of Down syndrome (Down’s syndrome is the British spelling.)
Actress Sally Phillips has accused ITV of being ‘irresponsible’ and causing ‘unnecessary hurt’ after a storyline in Emmerdale featured a couple who have an abortion after learning their baby has Down’s syndrome.
The actress, who has a sixteen-year-old son with Down’s syndrome, said: “The use of a Down syndrome diagnosis brings unnecessary hurt to a group of individuals, many of whom watch and enjoy the show precisely because there is a character with Down syndrome.
“Disability hate crime is on the rise and running with this storyline in Disability Awareness Month was at best poorly informed and thoughtless, and at worst irresponsible.”
Phillips’ comments come after more than 26,000 people signed a petition calling for this plotline to be scrapped. A number of MPs and charities have also written to the head of ITV, Dame Carolyn McCall, asking for the same.
Thousands, including some with Down’s syndrome, have posted comments and videos on social media arguing that the story perpetuates the idea that those with Down’s syndrome are unable to lead full lives and are a burden on society.
Down’s syndrome community not consulted
While ITV has said it collaborated with pro-abortion charity Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) some of the UK’s largest Down’s syndrome charities say they were not consulted. ARC was founded in 1988 as Support After Termination For Abnormality (SATFA).
An actress with Down’s syndrome, Bethany Asher, who has appeared in BBC soap Doctors, said on Twitter: ‘Years ago people like me were locked away and treated like aliens … Your storyline is encouraging people to view us like that all over again.’
Sharon Thomson, whose six-year-old son has the condition, said: “It’s bad enough that health care professionals present Down’s syndrome so negatively without it being done the same way on television. It’s an ignorant and outdated view.”
“It’s disappointing that this is the way they have decided to portray what it’s like finding out your unborn baby has Down’s syndrome.
Discrimination against people with Down’s syndrome
Disability-selective abortion has become an increasing issue in recent years. In 2019 there were 3,183 disability-selective abortions across England & Wales, with 656 of those occurring following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.
Around 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted following a positive prenatal diagnosis.
At the same time, a recent report revealed that pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision.
One mother, whose child is now four years old, said medical professionals told her they could leave her baby with Down’s syndrome to die if it was struggling after birth.
The discrimination against people with Down’s syndrome is not going unchallenged. The High Court in London will hear a landmark case against the UK Government over the country’s discriminatory abortion legislation, which singles out babies with disabilities by allowing terminations right through to birth for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.
Right To Life UK’s spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “It’s encouraging that Sally Phillips and others with her profile are speaking out against Emmerdale’s negative and discriminatory portrayal of those with Down’s syndrome.
“On the one hand, as Phillips points out, it’s great that the show has a character with Down’s syndrome as this helps to show just how normal it is. On the other hand, the producers are completely undermining this by introducing a plotline where a baby in the womb has their life ended precisely because he or she has Down’s syndrome.”