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Disability abortion bill passes Committee Stage with 99% of submissions supporting law change
The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill has passed Committee Stage at the Northern Ireland Assembly, after 99% of the 9,125 submissions to a Northern Ireland Committee for Health consultation on the Bill supported the proposed law change.
The Bill will now proceed to Consideration Stage. Currently, abortion is legal under the Northern Ireland regulations right up to birth, based solely on a primary diagnosis of disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, cleft palate, cleft lip or club foot. The Bill will amend the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 to prevent abortions up to full term on the grounds of non-fatal disability, thereby recognising those with disabilities as equally valued.
An analysis of submissions to the Northern Ireland Committee for Health consultation on the Bill by Don’t Screen Us Out shows that an overwhelming majority (99.55%) of submissions to the consultation supported the proposed law change. Of the 9,125 submissions made to the Committee, 9,084 submissions supported the Bill, 36 were not supportive, and 5 neither supported nor opposed the Bill.
The overwhelming majority of submissions supporting the Bill reflects the widespread support the Bill has received from across the four main political parties and also amongst those with disabilities and their families.
Earlier in the year, an open letter was signed by 1,608 people with Down’s syndrome and their families urging the Assembly to vote in favour of the bill, with a further 26,000 members of the public signing a petition to party leaders.
In 2020, the British Government imposed a new abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which includes a provision that legalised abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. Following Heidi Crowter’s call in 2020 for Stormont to do everything they could to oppose abortion on the basis of disability up to birth, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion opposing the extreme regulations being imposed on Northern Ireland. Across the two votes held, 75 out of 90 MLAs voted against the provisions and regulations.
Heidi Crowter, a disability rights campaigner who has Down’s syndrome and has been a particularly vocal advocate of the Bill, said:
“I’m so happy that the Bill has passed this stage and I’m so happy to have been a part of this, especially getting the chance to speak to the Northern Ireland Health Committee. I am told that the Bill will move on to the next stage and I will keep talking about this to everyone, and help where I can, because the law as it is, is downright discrimination”.
Lisa Allen from Belfast, whose son Aaron has Down’s syndrome, said:
“It’s welcome news to hear that this Bill is one step closer to becoming law. When Aaron was 4 weeks old we were told he would need surgery on his heart at 6 months old. He has 3 holes in his heart, a VSD, ASD and PDA. Aaron was sent home with a feeding tube and meds and we were told to prepare for his surgery at 6 months old. Nearly 6 years later and he is amazing his consultants and has still avoided surgery. Aaron is a loveable, strong and determined little boy. To think that now a baby like Aaron could have his life ended because of Down’s syndrome breaks my heart. He has shown that he is strong, able and determined from day one”.
Sara McNeill from Ballymena, whose son Tom has Down’s syndrome, said:
”It’s so encouraging to see the public get behind this important law change with an incredible 99% of submissions supporting the Bill. Tom is the best thing about our lives and has brought so much happiness to our whole family connection. So I would urge any parent faced with the decision of what to do, not to be blinded by poor, outdated preconceptions of what Down’s syndrome is. I thought our outlook seemed bleak when our doctor first shared her suspicions about our brand new baby… but now I know better”.
John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, University College London, said:
“As a doctor who has cared for many newborn babies and older children with disabilities, I strongly support this Bill. It is absolutely right that the law recognises that an unborn baby with a non-fatal disability deserves the same protection as an unborn baby without a disability. We should be a society which welcomes and celebrates the lives of children with disabilities rather than exposing them to the threat of abortion”.
Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out and mother of Rachel who has Down’s syndrome, said:
“We are delighted to see the Bill pass Committee Stage and see it one step closer to changing this law. It’s also amazing to see that an incredible 99.6% of the 9,125 submissions to the Northern Ireland Committee for Health consultation on the Bill supported this important law change. Simply, by removing a small discriminatory clause, this Bill provides an opportunity to sever the connection between congenital disability and abortion, signalling a greater acceptance of people such as those who have Down’s syndrome. We look forward to an open debate and discussion on the issues in the coming weeks, with the ultimate hope that the Bill will be passed, and the Down’s syndrome community will have something to celebrate”.
- For more information on the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, see our website www.dontscreenusout.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- For interviews, contact Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray on 0784 0966 736 or email email@example.com
- The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill Committee for Health consultation submission analysis is available here.