Two ministers of Northern Ireland’s Presbyterian Church community have sent a letter to Parliament expressing their support for the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill. The bill would prohibit parents from aborting their children due to “severe physical impairment.”
Abortion in Northern Ireland became legal just last year. While there are time limits for most abortions, parents can abort up to birth if there is a “substantial risk” that the preborn child would suffer severe physical or mental impairment. Conditions like Down syndrome, as well as correctible conditions like cleft lip or cleft palate, are classified as “severe.” The amendment, introduced by Paul Givan, would no longer allow parents to abort because their child might have such impairments.
The letter writers, the Reverends Daniel Kane and Trevor Gribben from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (PCI), reiterate the church’s long-standing belief that life begins at fertilization, and they state the concern that severe physical impairment could eventually cover “a range of minor conditions.” They also point to the danger of the bill in that it “allows for a subjective judgment to be made on the quality of life of a baby with a severe impairment and perpetuate[s] stereotypes toward persons with disabilities.”
The church leaders were also careful to show their support for women who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies. “This is not simply a theological or academic exercise for the church as many of our ministers, and others in congregations, have journeyed alongside women and families who have experienced a pregnancy crisis and been presented with difficult decisions. That continues as they support those who care for loved ones born with a disability. As a denomination, we are actively considering how we can better support women and their families who face these challenges.”
Speaking about the church’s support of the bill, the Rev. Kane said, “This legislation provides an important alternative to the creation of a culture where termination is considered an option ‘just in case’ quality of life is not as good as had been expected for a child without a disability. This is in line with the CEDAW recommendation that stereotypes towards persons with disabilities should not be perpetuated.”
Rev. Kane further added, “As Christians, we believe that all of us are made in the image of God, and therefore all human life has dignity and value. At the same time, all of us in society, whether we have a faith or not, have a responsibility to create an environment where attitudes and resources enable everyone to flourish and reach their full potential, regardless of ability.”
The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill has passed the second stage of the Northern Ireland Assembly has been sent to Committee. Currently, abortion is legal after 12 weeks in Northern Ireland in cases of risk to the mother’s physical and mental welfare and poor prenatal diagnosis, including conditions that could result in the child’s death at birth.
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