Emmerdale actress Charlotte Bellamy has defended the show’s decision to run with a controversial storyline in which her character elects for an abortion after discovering her unborn child has Down Syndrome.
The scenes, which are yet to air, have polarised fans of the long-running soap, with some claiming they perpetuate the idea that children born with genetic disorders and disabilities do not deserve to live.
Appearing on Tuesday’s edition of Lorraine, Bellamy – whose character Laurel Thomas makes the difficult decision to abort after falling pregnant with Jai Sharma’s baby – urged viewers to follow the storyline before forming an opinion.
Speaking out: Emmerdale actress Charlotte Bellamy has defended the show’s decision to run with a storyline in which her character has an abortion after discovering her unborn child has Down Syndrome
She said: ‘Of course, it’s going to cause huge debate and it is a highly emotive subject. But I think it’s important to say Emmerdale’ aren’t making judgements. They’re not taking sides.
‘We urge people to watch all of these episodes before making judgement.’
The actress, 47, also reminded fans that Emmerdale child actor Harvey Rogerson, a cast-member since 2014, also has Down Syndrome yet continues to appear regularly on the show as Leo Goskirk.
Controversy:: The actress’ character Laurel Thomas makes the difficult decision to abort after falling pregnant with Jai Sharma’s baby
Watch: Appearing on Tuesday’s edition of Lorraine, Bellamy urged viewers to follow the storyline before forming an opinion.
‘Emmerdale takes a balanced view,’ she said. ‘We have to remember Leo is a character who has been in the show for 10 years.
‘He is the Down syndrome son of Marlon and Rhona. And that has been such a huge positive story, and continues to be, in our show.
‘Soaps are at their most potent when they deal with very difficult stories. I think it’s really important that soaps don’t shy away from them.’
Impartial: The actress also reminded fans that Emmerdale child actor Harvey Rogerson, a cast-member since 2014, also has Down Syndrome yet continues to appear regularly on the show
Bellamy spoke to real life families while preparing for her upcoming storyline, and she admitted she was moved by the stories she heard.
‘It was fundamental for me to speak to families who have been affected by this, and it’s been humbling, very insightful for me, and helpful. So I can portray this as truthfully as I can,’ she said.
Despite the controversy surrounding her latest storyline, Bellamy insisted the repercussions that follow Laurel’s decision to abort will be felt well into the new year.
‘With this story, this continues,’ she said. ‘We will see the effects of their decision and it will carry on next year and for a long time.
‘I’ve had meaty stories – cot death, alcoholism, Ashley’s Alzheimer’s death – and each one comes with its own responsibilities.’
Ongoing: Despite the controversy surrounding her latest storyline, Bellamy insisted the repercussions that follow Laurel’s decision to abort will be felt well into the new year
The upcoming winter storyline will see Laurel and Jai attending their first scan together where they are told their child has Down’s Syndrome, which leads them to the heartbreaking decision to terminate their pregnancy.
A petition has been made by fans to stop the storyline from airing, while viewers took to social media to share their disappointment at the soap for the story.
Sharing a photo of her daughter Willow, Hannah Welbourn wrote in an impassioned post: ‘Dear Emmerdale, As a mummy to a little girl with Down Syndrome, I am asking you, how would you feel if you saw this headline!?
‘Not only are you doing this when people close to us are fighting hard to get abortion rules changed so those with Down Syndrome have the same rights as any of us, but you have also done this straight after Down Syndrome Awareness month…
‘A month where we as parents advocate for our children and shout out about our amazing experiences and lives!’
Shocking: The upcoming storyline will see Laurel and Jai attending their first scan together but they are told their child has Down’s Syndrome, which leads them to choose to have an abortion
Criticism: Viewers took to social media to share their disappointment at the soap, with Hannah Welbourn sharing a picture of her daughter Willow and writing an impassioned post
‘Disappointment is an understatement’: Hannah wrote ‘Willow is worth more than a ‘storyline” and said Emmerdale should instead ‘advocate in a positive way for our children’
Hannah continued: ‘Disappointed is an understatement! Have you thought about the consequences this will have on expectant mothers who have chosen to continue their pregnancy, or new mums who have just had their beautiful new bundle!
‘Or even the fact that young adults and adults with Down Syndrome watch your programme and will be extremely hurt by this ‘story line’!?
‘I am thankful that Willow is too young to understand this. But let me ask you, will this storyline be sensitive to those people listed above?
‘Or to me and my husband who have this amazing girl you see? Willow is worth more than a ‘storyline’, and maybe you could take a leaf out of @jojomamanbebe book and advocate in a positive way for our children?! Regards, A blessed and proud mummy!!’
Upset: While on Twitter, several fans said they were ‘disappointed’ in Emmerdale and claimed the writers should be ‘ashamed’ for their decision
While on Twitter, several fans said they were ‘disappointed’ in Emmerdale and claimed the writers should be ‘ashamed’ for their decision.
One person wrote: ‘This is absolutely disgusting you could of chosen a more positive outcome for this. And what of adults with down syndrome who are going to watch this should be ashamed.’
Sharing a photo of their daughter, another added: ‘@emmerdale please think about what you are broadcasting….. VERY outdated advice.
‘Think how people with Down Syndrome will feel watching your show, how parents of children with Down Syndrome will feel. Down Syndrome is a blessing in disguise!! My Eliza Sunshine Rae proves this!! (sic)’
Respone: Several parents shared pictures of their children, with one mother saying her son ‘happens to have Down syndrome and brightens up the world for many people’
One fan hit out: ‘Pretty disgusted to see that would introduce such a negative and insensitive storyline. There was every opportunity here to advocate Down Syndrome as a positive but instead decided to support every misconception. Sad really.’
And another criticised: ‘When soaps have so much power to create positive awareness around disability, they run a story like this! How do you think your viewers who have Down syndrome and their loved ones will feel, have you even considered this? Shame on you @itv @emmerdale’
The Down’s Syndrome Association told MailOnline in a statement: ‘The DSA can provide balanced and up to date information about Down’s syndrome for anyone in Laurel and Jai’s position.
‘We would encourage anyone in this situation to contact our confidential helpline to talk with our trained staff for non-directive information and support.’
Making a stand: A petition has also been made by fans to stop the storyline from airing
Spoilers for the ITV soap reveal that in coming weeks, Laurel will discover she is pregnant, and though she and Jai, played by Chris Bisson, will be faced with the extremely difficult choice to end their pregnancy following a prenatal diagnosis.
The plot will see the couple be informed that the pregnancy is not developing as expected and that there is a chance their baby may have a chromosomal condition.
As Laurel and Jai return to the village devastated, the drama continues as they grapple with their emotions and whether to go ahead with a CVS (chorionic villus sampling) test, which will determine chromosomal or genetic disorders in a fetus.
And following many agonising and tearful conversations, the couple go ahead with the CVS test, with results later confirming their baby has Down’s syndrome.
Baby news: In the soap, Laurel and Jai will be informed that the pregnancy is not developing as expected and that there is a chance their baby may have a chromosomal condition
Impending scenes in the village will see Laurel and Jai share some very deep and emotional heart-to-heart’s, before coming to the devastating decision not to continue with their pregnancy.
Laurel, like many women across the UK facing the same painful experience, goes ahead with the termination.
The plot is set to continue to play out on screen and depict the couples sense of loss, devastation and upset following the ending of the pregnancy.
According to statistics, annually around 40,000 are told that there is a possibility their unborn child will not develop as expected.
Tough: Laurel and Jai will grapple with whether to go ahead with a CVS (chorionic villus sampling) test, which will determine chromosomal or genetic disorders in a fetus
And while many are reassured and will go ahead with the pregnancy, around 5,000 women every year make the heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy after learning of the baby’s genetic or physical condition.
On the poignant storyline, Emmerdale said: ‘The Emmerdale story team felt it was a story that needed to be told. With the support and guidance of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) we endeavour to ensure this story will be sensitively told whilst reflecting the reality many couples face.’
Bellamy said of the storyline: ‘Terminating a pregnancy is an emotive subject, but I think as a programme what Emmerdale does brilliantly is portray difficult stories that are important to tell.
Heartbreaking: After being informed their unborn baby has Down’s Syndrome, Laurel and Jai will come to the devastating decision not to continue with their pregnancy
‘The statistics tell us that a majority of people faced with similar news resulting from a diagnostic test, do take this decision. So I hope Laurel and Jai’s story will take the audience on the journey of them coming to this conclusion and having some understanding why they do.’
She continued: ‘There are some very powerfully written scenes that I hope will give a fair portrayal of their situation. When I embarked on this storyline I was well aware of the responsibility of the subject matter, but the scripts have been so well written and I think the story is told fairly.’
While Series Producer Laura Shaw commented: ‘Right from the moment the idea was first mooted for this storyline, we knew it was one that if we went ahead with, it had to be fully researched, which involved us speaking to medical professionals, charities and parents with lived experience.
‘Listening to women and men telling us their stories, hearing what brought them to make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancies, cemented for us that this was a topic rarely shown on soap, but a really important one to highlight.’
She went on: ‘Translating what we had learnt into Emmerdale scripts led to what was arguably the most challenging and difficult writing our writing team had ever been tasked with.
‘What we have produced and Charlotte and Chris have both brilliantly brought to life, is some of the most heartbreaking and emotional episodes of Emmerdale viewers will have ever seen.’
Thoughts: Bellamy said the story ‘is an emotive subject, but I think as a programme what Emmerdale does brilliantly is portray difficult stories that are important to tell’
In addition, Jane Fisher, Director of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) said of the plot: ‘We have over 30 years’ experience of supporting women and their partners through the painful circumstances of ending a wanted pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis.
‘Thousands of parents go through this every year, but it is rarely spoken about. This can lead to bereaved parents feeling very isolated in their grief. We are really pleased that such a popular drama as Emmerdale is tackling this story in such an empathetic and thoughtful way.
‘I have been particularly impressed by how they have valued input from us to help make sure it is as true as possible to the complex reality for couples. It won’t make for easy viewing but will do much to break the silence around this sensitive topic.’
Emmerdale airs weekdays at 7pm on ITV.
What is a CVS (chorionic villus sampling) test?
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a test you may be offered during pregnancy to check if your baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition, such as Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome.
It involves removing and testing a small sample of cells from the placenta, the organ linking the mother’s blood supply with her unborn baby’s.
CVS is not routinely offered to all pregnant women.
It’s only offered if there’s a high risk your baby could have a genetic or chromosomal condition.
CVS is usually carried out between the 11th and 14th weeks of pregnancy, although it’s sometimes performed later than this if necessary.
The first results of the test should be available within 3 working days and this will tell you if Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome has been discovered.
If rarer conditions are also being tested for, it can take 2 to 3 weeks or more for the results to come back.