A Cumbria-based group has lent its support to an open letter to the producers of a major ITV programme, expressing dismay over an upcoming storyline.

Diff-Ability, a Cumbrian community interest company supporting those with disabilities and learning difficulties, has backed a call for a change to an upcoming Emmerdale storyline, in which long-standing characters Laurel Thomas and Jai Sharma decide to go through with an abortion after doctors conclude their child will have Down’s Syndrome.

The storyline has been condemned by a number of charity and campaign groups. A petition calling for the plot to be abandoned has amassed more than 23,500 signatures.

Diff-Ability’s founder, Cristina Bowman, who herself has a young son with Down’s Syndrome, Max, explained that she is concerned a storyline depicting prospective parents committing to an abortion because their child will have Down’s Syndrome will contribute to “outdated stereotypes and misconceptions,” against which for those with Down’s Syndrome and their loved ones there is a “daily fight for equality.”

“We worry that this storyline is going to make our fight harder.

“The views of society are already biased toward a negative outcome with some believing Down’s Syndrome is not compatible with life, when for the majority their child becomes the life and soul of their family,” she said.

The open letter supported by Cristina was penned by 33 individuals with Down’s Syndrome.

“We would love to see this story have an ending so people like us feel valued and respected,” the letter read, and requested that the conclusion be amended to show Laurel and Jai deciding to keep their baby.

A reply to the letter from John Whiston, managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV in the north, said that the programme aims to explore events in people’s lives “where they are faced with momentous decisions.”

“Emmerdale is not saying that that decision is right or wrong,” he wrote.

“It is up to individual parents to decide what is right for them based on their own beliefs and their own circumstances.”

He added that the storyline was an exploration of the complex reasons behind why a couple may make the decision to end a pregnancy, and that “the storyline does not in any way suggest that people with Down’s Syndrome are not valued and respected.”

“As a programme which covers all aspects of life, it is right for Emmerdale to be allowed to show that,” he wrote.

Cristina remains concerned that to depict such a storyline on a major national television drama may help to normalise a view that those with Down’s Syndrome are “not worthy members of society.”

“There is enough prejudice against this minority group without adding to it”, she said.