Emmerdale’s Down syndrome abortion storyline is insulting and Christians needs to speak out
ITV soap Emmerdale is running a storyline about a coupling choosing to abort their baby when they find out it has Down syndrome. Sarah Costerston a Christian mother to a girl with Down’s says it’s an insult to parents like her.
Premier: When you heard about the storyline, how did that make you feel as a Mum of a child with Down's syndrome?
Sarah: To be honest, it was a whole mix of emotion. One was total shock that a soap such as Emmerdale, that's shown at about seven o'clock in the evening, thought that this storyline is appropriate in any way. Then anger that all the work that parents of people with Down syndrome and the people with Down syndrome themselves are doing - to promote that Down syndrome is nothing to be frightened of - it just felt like somebody with more influence and more responsibility was just able to undo that work and suggest that this couple's life would be better without their baby, purely because it was going to be born with Down syndrome. Then just sadness that people think this is acceptable in today's society. My daughter's at a mainstream school and my concerns were what if her classmates see this? She's just one of the team, no one notices anything different about Beth, she's got a whole list of friends, she's very popular, she's well loved, and the idea that some of those children might overhear the storyline and think, 'oh, is Beth a problem?' For little minds, I just felt this wasn't appropriate at all.
Premier: How do you think it could influence adults who may get that pre-natal diagnosis at some point in their lives? Or they might have just got it and be thinking about termination?
Sarah: Sadly, we know already that the storyline isn't particularly shocking. We know that about 90% of parents who find out antenatally that their child has Down Syndrome choose to terminate anyway. I did find out antenatally that Beth had a one-in-two chance of being born with Down Syndrome. The first thing the consultant said to me is 'are you sure you want to keep her because that's not what anyone else does?' So the story really is around the maternity services and how the news is told to parents and when you've got so much negativity anyway to deal with and then you've got a soap perpetuating that life will be better and more simple without a child, it's devastating for our community.
Premier: Could this storyline actually expose that view as a problem? Maybe the viewers will see this couple's decision and they'll disagree with the fact that they've aborted it and it might spin their view the other way around?
Sarah: It would be really nice to think that would be the case. But Emmerdale haven't contacted any charity that works with people Down Syndrome. The only advice, as far as we're aware that they've taken, is from Antenatal Results and Choices which is a charity that was formerly known as 'support for termination following foetal anomaly'. They've changed their name but actually the work they do is pretty much the same. They claim to be impartial but they're not. They don't have support systems in place for people who continue and if Emmerdale have run the storyline and script passed ARC we know how that's going to play out because of our experiences with ARC that have not been impartial. We surveyed over 1,000 women and 69% of women were offered a termination in the same conversation as the diagnosis of Down Syndrome was given - so they weren't given any time to think about anything, they weren't given time to go away and do their research, the termination was offered and that sets out what the expectation is. Also, yes there is a little boy with Down Syndrome in the soap and that that makes it even worse, that actually these parents are going to see this little boy with Down Syndrome and they think 'I couldn't do that. I couldn't have this little boy or little girl like him in my life' and it's actually even more insulting. I know that that's been a defence, that somebody would say 'well, they've got one' and you think this isn't about tokenism, this is about a fully inclusive story.
Premier: Would you let any of your children watch this episode?
Sarah: I think the problem is it's not going to be one episode. From what the producers have said, this story will run over many weeks, possibly months and years as you see it unfold. We can't just say, 'Oh, we won't watch that one.' Actually people with Down syndrome now will not be able to watch Emmerdale and their families will choose not to because we don't want to see somebody choosing to terminate a baby that has the condition of the child that's sitting right next to us watching it. It's so offensive and the fact that Emmerdale don't seem to be able to see that is quite baffling.
Premier: How does it make you feel as a Christian?
Sarah: I think Christians have really struggled to find their feet in the whole termination issue because we're bombarded with 'it's a woman's right to choose' and it's difficult to know how to respect what's in law while maintaining your belief that life is life. I had that feeling that life began kind of conception before I was a Christian, just through discussions at school, and I knew termination wasn't something that I would ever be able to do in any circumstance. When I found that Beth had Down's it wasn't an issue, I knew what my decision would be. I think Christians have a role in this because many women feel they have no choice. What will the effects of having a child with disability be on their siblings? What will their finances be like? Perhaps they've got an unsupportive partner who's putting pressure on them. So to just say 'it's women's choice' is a really lazy get out because women need all these services. They need to understand what things are in place for them, should they continue. They need to know the support that's out there so that actually they can make a proper, informed choice and not just be scared and fearful of what the future will hold.
Our lives are richer and more full for having Beth. The best friends that I have, have all come since having Beth - she's introduced me to some wonderful people and it's a wonderful community to be part of and I can't help thinking that the people in Emmerdale, and this poor couple who have a dreadful life when you read their backstory, would thrive having a child with Down syndrome because they would find people will rally and will support them. And that's what we find; we're part of an amazing community.
Sarah Costerton is a Christian and is married to David. They have three girls: Hannah, 10, Beth, 7, and Jessie, 3. Beth has Down syndrome and Sarah cannot imagine why the TV soap Emmerdale is going to run a storyline where a couple choose to abort their baby with the same condition.
Don't miss the January edition of Woman Alive featuring our interview with Heidi Crowter, the 25-year-old with Down Syndrome who is campaigning against the current law which permits full-term abortions for foetuses diagnosed with Down's. Click here to subscribe.
Photo credit: ITV
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