Almost five thousand people have already signed a petition asking the popular British soap, Emmerdale, to change an abortion storyline that campaigners say is “prejudiced” against people with Down Syndrome.
Set up by mum Rachel Mewes, whose daughter Betsy has Down Syndrome, the petition says the soap’s storyline will “influence the masses as a perpetuation of the embedded prejudice towards people with Down’s Syndrome that is a huge problem in our culture.”
Ms Mews says Emmerdale’s storyline is “irresponsible” and should be changed. “Promoting abortion of babies with Down’s Syndrome through this storyline is absolutely disgusting and violates the human rights of people with Down’s Syndrome and their families who should not be expected to have to put up with such prejudice in mainstream media that suggests themselves, or their child would be better off dead.”
“Emmerdale will be soon showing a storyline which depicts a couple having an abortion because their baby has Down’s Syndrome. It has shaken me to the core that a popular TV show watched by millions has sought to perpetuate the antiquated stereotyping, embedded and, often unconscious, prejudice combined with misleading information about Down’s Syndrome that is endemic in our society. Combined with that, we live in a country that has an NHS that does not have a care pathway for women expecting a child with Down’s Syndrome,” she says.
“You don’t know what it is like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome until you have had that experience and the only people who can truly inform parents of the lives experience are those who have a child with the condition themselves. How many families who have a child with Down’s Syndrome did ITV consult with? Or was it just families who have had an abortion?”
“Did ITV consult with people who have Down’s Syndrome?” she asks. “Promoting abortion of babies with Down’s Syndrome through this storyline is absolutely disgusting and violates the human rights of people with Down’s Syndrome and their families who should not be expected to have to put up with such prejudice in mainstream media that suggests themselves, or their child would be better off dead.”
“I think what this highlights for me is the consequences for so many families of there being no NHS pathway for expectant women who have had a high chance or positive result of their baby having Down’s Syndrome. The pathway that information and guidance on how to provide antenatal care for these women is embedded in a Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality pathway provided by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. If you look closely at the pathway you will see that Jane Fisher, of ARC, was involved in writing it. And this is the ‘non-biased’ charity ITV have sought to inform their storyline?”
“Let me tell you why I have these opinions. I have a child with Down’s Syndrome. She’s called Betsy. She is 3 years old and my absolute world. I also had an antenatal diagnosis. The difference is that I already knew what Down’s Syndrome was. I have spent my career working with children with learning disabilities and know the reality of the condition. I was truly informed and therefore did not have that embedded fear and prejudice of the condition. I also knew how much support I would have from the team of people who would surround Betsy to help her achieve. My decision was informed by true, lived experience of knowing and working with people who have Down’s Syndrome. This experience is not something disseminated by medical professionals and is hard to demonstrate. A lifetime spent around people with Down’s Syndrome, which is a natural part of the human race, teaches you how every single person has value.”
“To sum up, I consider Emmerdale writing this storyline to influence the masses as a perpetuation of the embedded prejudice towards people with Down’s Syndrome that is a huge problem in our culture. It is irresponsible, ignorant and prejudiced. I ask ITV to please bin this storyline. For the sakes of the parents who will be misled by this ableism. For the sake of people with Down’s Syndrome who should not have to put up with this prejudice. And for the sake of my daughter who has to grow up in a world that you are showing believes she will be better off dead.”