Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you as people with Down’s syndrome and their families because your Government are currently deciding on the proposed abortion regulations for Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Office have released a consultation on proposed abortion regulations for Northern Ireland.
The consultation document outlines that abortion would be available:
- Through to either 12 or 14 weeks on request. This will allow abortion on request for any reason, which will include conditions such as Down’s syndrome. Given the availability of early non-invasive pre-natal tests, it will be possible to have a diagnosis for Down’s syndrome followed by an abortion within this period of time.
- Through to either 22 or 24 weeks on ‘mental health’ grounds. This will likely in practice allow for abortion on request for any reason, which will include prenatal conditions such as Down’s syndrome.
- Through to birth for ‘fetal abnormality’ providing that “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life”.
In England and Wales, the Abortion Act outlines restrictive wording (‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’) which is similar, but in practice, this has allowed for abortion for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot right through to birth. So it is likely that under the proposed wording in the framework, without a clear provision stating otherwise, abortion will be available in practice through to birth for Down’s syndrome.
The most recent figures in England and Wales show that 90% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome are aborted. Also, over the last 10 years, there has been a 42% increase in abortion for babies who have Down’s syndrome.
Northern Ireland has a very different approach to how it treats people with Down’s syndrome. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is illegal and there is a more positive culture of accepting people with disabilities rather than eliminating them out.
We can see this in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. They show that there were 52 children with Down’s syndrome born. In the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.
The proposed framework would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for congenital conditions detected pre-birth in Northern Ireland, and would reduce the numbers of our already very small community. This would have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland.
We are calling you to urgently clarify that your Government will not introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. All that is required is for your Government to commit to add a simple provision to the abortion framework that will clearly outline that abortion for Down’s syndrome will explicitly not be allowed.
Your Government are not required by Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. Sadly it appears that the your Government are proposing to go further than they are required to do by the Act and have opted to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland in the proposed legal framework.
If your Government do not ensure that a provision is in place to prevent the introduction of abortion for Down’s syndrome, you will be directly responsible for introducing a deeply discriminatory law to Northern Ireland that will allow for babies with Down’s syndrome to be chosen for abortion simply because they are found to have the condition. This seems archaic in a culture where we embrace our differences and no longer treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens.
So many babies with Down’s syndrome are already aborted in England, Wales and Scotland. If your Government introduces abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland, this will likely see even more babies in the UK screened out by termination. This is discrimination and will have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down’s syndrome.
We are asking that you ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome, which will have such great consequences for our community, is not introduced to Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson, please do the right thing. Don’t screen us out. Ensure that abortion for Down’s syndrome is not introduced to Northern Ireland.