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Sally Phillips on the “pressure” to abort Down's Syndrome babies: “It hurts my head”

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Kayleigh Dray
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Abortion is not a process that any woman wants to endure – nor is it a decision made lightly.

There are countless reasons for a woman to terminate a pregnancy, including financial instability, fears for the woman’s health or emotional well-being, or the simple fact that they are, quite simply, not ready to become mothers.

Others make the decision based on whether prenatal tests reveal the child would be born with a genetically inherited disorder or disability.

Now, in a new interview, actress Sally Phillips says she believes there's pressure on mums of Down's Syndrome babies to terminate the pregnancy and, as a mum of a child with Down's Syndrome herself, has spoken out against it, saying: “If we deny someone the chance to be born because we've decided they won't meet some predetermined measure of status or achievement, then we've failed to grasp what it means to be human.”

Sally Phillips in the BBC's A World Without Down’s Syndrome

Sally Phillips in the BBC's A World Without Down’s Syndrome

Phillips, who's previously appeared in Smack The Pony, Miranda and the Bridget Jones films, has been discussing the subject while promoting her upcoming BBC documentary, A World Without Down’s Syndrome.

In the programme, she talks about being a mother to three boys – the eldest of whom, Olly, has Down’s Syndrome.

“The doctor said ‘I’m so sorry’ and the nurse cried,” she told The Telegraph. “And it was really clear that this was breaking bad news.”



The comedian, 46, took her baby boy home, where she soon found herself flooded with sympathy from her family and friends, who all came “round to get drunk and talk about the ‘bad news’”.

However, while she acknowledges that something “important” had happened, Phillips added that “it’s not really as bad as everyone makes out” - and said that she “would have been really served by having someone around standing up and saying 'This is a good thing.'”

Her words follow the announcement that a new screening test can detect Down’s Syndrome in pregnancies with 99% accuracy.

In the documentary, Phillips explores the prospect of a world where people choose not to have children with Down’s Syndrome, meeting with key players on both sides of the emotionally charged debate, and pondering some of the ethical questions around future scientific developments, such as what we will be able to screen for next and what do our screening choices reveal about us?

And, after speaking with several mothers of babies with the condition, Phillips has determined that many women are being pressured into terminating their disabled children – with some even being booked in for abortions without their consent.

Sally Phillips at the Bridget Jones' Baby premiere

Sally Phillips at the Bridget Jones' Baby premiere

“I don't understand how that can be acceptable, but I do know that it hurts my head,” she said to the Radio Times.

“If we deny someone the chance to be born because we've decided they won't meet some predetermined measure of status or achievement, then we've failed to grasp what it means to be human.”

She added: “Although Olly was the reason I started making this film, you'll be relieved to hear it's not just about him. It’s not just about Down’s Syndrome either.

“It's a film that asks what kind of society we want to live in and who should be allowed to live in it.”

A World Without Down’s Syndrome is on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday 5 October

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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