ABORTION OF DOWN SYNDROME CHILDREN AT THE ECHR
By: G. Puppinck
The ECHR will rule on the following question: is there a right to abort a child because they have Down syndrome? This claim has been made in applications against Poland, which has chosen to prohibit discrimination between unborn children: with or without Down’s syndrome, abled or disabled, these children all have the same dignity.
Laura et Charlotte are two young women. They have Down Syndrome. For some NGOs, who are multiplying requests before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), they should not have been born. The ECLJ is also an NGO and acts in these same cases before the ECHR, but to defend the opposite thesis: there are no sub-humans, nor “sub-women”. What is at stake in these cases is crucial, both humanly speaking, and for the future of Europe and the protection of the fundamental rights of all human beings.
For the World Down Syndrome Day 2022, Laura and Charlotte each addressed directly the judges of the ECHR: they explain what Down Syndrome is, how they live with it, and ask the judges to defend them with a favourable judgment.
Exceptionally, five former ECHR judges intervened before their former court, co-signing the written observations of the ECLJ, which is a third party in these cases. This is a first to our knowledge: this intervention by former judges is not political or media-oriented, but judicial. They are intervening in support of the right to life of people with disabilities.
Our observations are also co-signed by experts from the United Nations, the former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, numerous law professors, magistrates, lawyers, jurists and associations.
This unprecedented support aims to get the ECHR to align with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which stated that “laws that explicitly permit abortion on the basis of disability violate [international law]” (2018).The deadline for submitting our written observations to the ECHR is Monday 21 March, which just happens to be World Down Syndrome Day. This will symbolically remind the judges that the issue before them is not abortion per se, but the place of people with Down syndrome and disabilities in our societies.
To present this issue in relation to women’s rights is a fraud. Unlike the reasons usually given for abortion – rape, danger to the mother’s health or life, or simply the mother’s choice – here what is targeted is a characteristic of the baby, unrelated to the mother. Abortion is not then an attempt at family planning or a response to a health or social need of women; it is an assumed selection between ‘healthy’ children and sick or disabled children. It is not a general refusal of the right to be born; it is a rejection of sick, handicapped or people with Down syndrome. This is called eugenics and it is no less shocking before birth than after.