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Press release – Down’s syndrome community oppose RCOG calls for framework that will introduce Down’s syndrome abortion to Northern Ireland

06 Feb Press release – Down’s syndrome community oppose RCOG calls for framework that will introduce Down’s syndrome abortion to Northern Ireland

Press release for immediate release 

Down’s syndrome community oppose RCOG calls for framework that will introduce Down’s syndrome abortion to Northern Ireland 

Down’s syndrome advocates have spoken out against the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) calls for the Government to introduce abortion on request to Northern Ireland, which would introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland.

Over 1700 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have now signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to clarify that disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome will not be introduced to Northern Ireland.

This coincides with a Freedom of Information request revealing that 710 late-term abortions (between 20 weeks and birth) for Down’s syndrome have taken place in England and Wales over the last 10 years (2009-2018).

Dozens of families who have signed the letter have shared photos of their children with Down’s syndrome on social media to help send a strong message to Boris Johnson.

The UK Government have released a consultation on proposed abortion regulations for Northern Ireland. 

The UK 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 UK 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.

The consultation document outlines that abortion will be available 

  • Up 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 screening tests, it will be possible to have a diagnosis for Down’s syndrome followed by an abortion within this period of time. 
  • Up 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.

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, said:

“We oppose the RCOG’s call to introduce an abortion framework that will introduce Down’s syndrome abortion to Northern Ireland. Introducing abortion on request to Northern Ireland would introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. This 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 on the Government to urgently clarify that they will not introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. All that is required is for the 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.

The Government were not required by Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. Sadly it appears that they have decided 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 their proposed legal framework.

We live in a society which proclaims that we want to empower those with disabilities, and that regardless of your background, you deserve a fair and equal chance at life. We believe that our laws must reflect this narrative.”

Nicola Woods from Belfast, who has 7-year old son with Down’s syndrome, said:

“The RCOG have no right to come and tell people in Northern Ireland that we must have an abortion framework that will introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland.

We in Northern Ireland should be left to make our own decisions about abortion law.

The changes to abortion law that the RCOG are pushing for would have a very negative impact on the Down’s syndrome community here in Northern Ireland when it is the safest place to be diagnosed with a disability.

My son Daniel is a delight. We in Northern Ireland have consistently rejected introducing abortion for Down’s syndrome because we see people with Down’s syndrome like Daniel as a special and vital part of our community. 

This is reflected in figures from the Department of Health here which show that while 52 children with Down’s syndrome were born in 2016, in the same year only one child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. This contrasts with the rest of the UK, where abortion is allowed up to birth if a baby has a congenital condition, including Down’s syndrome and the latest statistics show that 90% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted.”

ENDS

Video of Lord Shinkwin’s speech here.

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