People with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter to Theresa May opposing the Government’s plans to draft secondary legislation that would introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. This major law change would introduce abortion for babies with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland, right through to 28-weeks gestation.
The letter has already been signed by over 575 people from the Down’s syndrome community in less than 24 hours.
They are urging the Government not to introduce any such legislation that would allow for babies with Down’s syndrome to be selectively aborted in Northern Ireland.
Currently, in Northern Ireland, disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not allowed and therefore, extremely rare. Figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland 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.
In the rest of the UK, however, the latest statistics show that 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted and abortion is allowed up to birth if a baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome.
Lord Shinkwin, an advocate for disability equality, has strongly denounced the plans the Government has to introduce disability-selective abortion to Northern Ireland, and noted that currently, “Northern Ireland is the safest place in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with a disability”.
Shinkwin urged the Government to consider the message that changing the law to allow abortion on grounds of disability in Northern Ireland sends to the people of Northern Ireland and to the disabled citizens of Northern Ireland. The message it sends to people who are born with a disability, he said, is that “you are better off dead”.
Lynn Murray, spokeswoman for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign said:
“There has been a great response to the letter to the Prime Minister in a very short space of time because this is a matter of huge concern to those in the Down’s syndrome community.
This is a law that is being imposed upon Northern Ireland, that would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for disability 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.
If it were passed, it would allow for babies with Down’s syndrome to be chosen for abortion, up to 28 weeks, simply because they are found to have a disability.
Our attitude towards people with disabilities has changed and our laws must reflect that.
We are asking the Prime Minister not to turn back the clock on people with disabilities, not to leave this “burning injustice” as her legacy, and to listen to the voices of our community who will be most affected by this law change.
Theresa May must immediately intervene in order to stop her Government imposing these deeply discriminatory proposals that would bring disability-selective abortion to Northern Ireland.”
- 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
- Link to sign the open letter: https://dontscreenusout.org/theresamayopenletter/
- Full text of Lord Shinkwin’s speech in the House of Lords, 15th July 2019, is available here.
- Video of Lord Shinkwin’s speech here.