Press release for immediate release
Pressure mounts on NI political leaders as over 1500 people with Down’s syndrome and their families call for law change
1,553 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter to the political leaders of the Northern Ireland Assembly urging them to vote in favour of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill at its second reading.
The bill, which was introduced last week by Paul Givan MLA, 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.
Under the current provision in the Abortion (Northern Ireland) regulations, babies in Northern Ireland with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can be singled out for abortion because of their disability and aborted right up until term. Campaigners have highlighted that this is distressing for families who are preparing for the birth of their child, and also to people with disabilities.
The new bill sends a clear message that people with disabilities are equal to others. The new bill has been produced in association with the ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ campaign. Lynn Murray, spokesperson for the campaign said, “Already, over 1,500 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have called on NI party leaders to support this Bill. It’s clear that there is strong support from the Down’s syndrome community for a change in the law. People with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities shouldn’t be screened out before they’re born. We call on politicians from across the political spectrum to support this Bill and show the way forward for other countries.”
The bill has been backed by many individuals who have Down’s syndrome or have a family member with the disability. Sara McNeill from Ballymena, who has a son with Down’s syndrome said, ”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 So I would urge any parent faced with the decision of what to do, not to be blinded by poor, outdated preconceptions of what Down’s syndrome is.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.”
Lisa Allen, from Belfast said, “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.”
Campaigners say the current law in Northern Ireland communicates to people with disabilities that their lives are less worthy of protection than the lives of those without disabilities, perpetuating deeply unhelpful stereotypes about their quality of life, by suggesting it might be better for them not to have been born.