Press release for immediate release
New abortion amendment bill aims to remove disability discrimination in Northern Ireland
Today, the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill will be introduced by Paul Givan MLA to the Northern Ireland Assembly for its first reading. The bill seeks to amend the current Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020 to no longer allow unborn babies with a ‘serious fetal impairment’ (SFI) to be aborted to term. This bill would not amend the law in cases of “fatal fetal abnormality” (FFA).
Currently abortion is legal under the Northern Ireland regulations up to birth based solely on a primary diagnosis of disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, cleft palate, cleft lip or clubfoot. 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. This bill is produced in association with the leading disability campaign group ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’.
Paul Givan MLA said, “The current law tells those with disabilities that they are worth less than other people, their contribution is less valuable, their lives less important, less full. It invites us to view those with disabilities as less deserving of the protection of the law. The idea that Down’s syndrome is some huge problem that should be addressed by abortion is chilling. You don’t have to look far to see the full lives those with disabilities lead; they enrich our communities and families.”
Disability campaigner Heidi Crowter has been actively working alongside Paul Givan MLA in support of this bill. Heidi said, “This bill that allows abortion up to birth in Northern Ireland makes me feel that I am not as valued as anyone else. Maybe people are even told that living with Down’s syndrome is too hard, but research confirms that people with Down’s syndrome and their families are happy with their lives!”
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. Ahead of the regime coming into effect, 2,000 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signed a letter to Boris Johnson asking him to not introduce abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. An additional 18,000 people from Northern Ireland urged the Prime Minister and other British MPs to let the people of Northern Ireland decide its own abortions laws.
Following Heidi’s call in 2020 for Stormont to do everything they could to oppose abortion on the basis of disability up until 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 in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities. Sadly the UK Government ignored the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly and went ahead with imposing a new regime which introduced abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.
Many people who are living with Down’s syndrome or have children with the disability have spoken out publicly in favour of the new bill.
Laura Denny, from Northern Ireland, who has a son with Down’s syndrome said, “It wasn’t until my son Nathan was in my arms that I realised I had a baby and not just a diagnosis. Termination was suggested to me in my pregnancy and I will never forgive myself for having considered it when I was given no hope for my baby. After a very turbulent pregnancy with Nathan and not a lot of medical support, we are hoping to raise awareness and challenge preconceptions of having a child with Down’s syndrome.”