Press release for immediate release
NI Assembly votes in favour of bill to change abortion law
Today the Northern Ireland Assembly voted 48 to 12 in favour of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill at its second reading, in a move celebrated by disability rights campaigners across the UK. 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.
This victory reflects the widespread support the Bill has received since it was first introduced to the assembly by Paul Givan MLA on the 16th January 2021, from across the four main political parties and also amongst those with disabilities and their loved ones.
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. This new bill proposes that non-fatal disabilities are not grounds for abortion in Northern Ireland and that the current law is discriminatory against those with such disabilities.
John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, University College London, says ‘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.’
Earlier in the campaign 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. The Bill, which was produced in association with the ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’, campaign will now proceed to Committee stage where it will be scrutinised before Consideration stage.
The disability rights campaigner, Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome, has been a particularly vocal advocate of the Bill. She says, “I’m so happy that Paul Givan’s Bill won the vote today and I’m so happy to have been a part of this, especially getting the chance to speak to the Northern Ireland Health Committee last week. 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.”
Lynn Murray, spokesperson of the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign says, “We are delighted to see a supportive vote today for Paul Givan’s Bill which will now continue its journey through the Northern Ireland Assembly. 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.”
Paul Givan MLA said, ‘I am delighted that the Assembly has supported the Bill through its second reading. This Bill gives us an opportunity to send a clear message to people with a condition like Down’s syndrome, their families, friends and wider society, that Northern Ireland will not tolerate disability discrimination and they are equally valued.’
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’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.