Human Rights

Disability advocates fight for an end to discriminatory abortions in Northern Ireland

Down syndrome, down syndrome abortion ban

More than 1,500 people have signed an open letter in Northern Ireland calling for lawmakers to support the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill. The bill would amend the country’s current law and make it illegal to abort up to birth on the basis of “serious fetal impairment” like Down syndrome, club foot, and cleft lip. It would not impact the status of abortions due to a “fatal prenatal diagnosis.”

Currently, abortion in Northern Ireland is permissible up to birth if there is a suspicion that the preborn child has any non-fatal disabilities. This new bill claims that such a law is discriminatory. If passed, it is likely that many preborn children in Northern Ireland will have a chance at life.

The bill’s sponsor Paul Givan 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.”

The campaign to lobby politicians in support of the bill is largely thanks to an advocacy group called Don’t Screen Us Out. The group has had an active social media presence, garnering support from many people who either have Down syndrome or have a family member with Down syndrome.

READ: Health officials project nearly 500% increase in abortions in Northern Ireland

“Already, over 1,500 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have called on Northern Ireland’s 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,” said Lynn Murray, the campaign’s spokesperson. “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.”

According to Don’t Screen Us Out, 90% of preborn children with Down syndrome are currently aborted in England and Wales. However, abortion in Northern Ireland for disability reasons has only been legal since last year. In its open letter, the group points out that prior to the change in law, “Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome was not permitted and there was a more positive culture of accepting people with disabilities rather than eliminating them out.”

Heidi Crowter, a disability activist with Down syndrome, also urged support of the reform, saying, “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!”

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