A bid by the Democratic Unionist Party in the north to outlaw abortions on the grounds of disability has gained support and put pressure on Sinn Féin to support a change in the law to protect some people with disabilities.
Abortion legislation, imposed on the region by the British Parliament in Westminster has remained enormously controversial ever since Sinn Féin and the SDLP facilitated the law being forced on Northern Ireland.
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The law overturns a ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite the opposition of 79% of submissions to a consultation by the Northern Ireland Office. It would allow for abortion up to birth on disability grounds.
Now Sinn Féin has bowed to public pressure and has indicated it will support a bid by the DUP to restrict abortion where the baby has a disability.
The DUP motion “welcomes the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down syndrome”.
Ms Crowther, who has Down Syndrome, is a well-known advocate for people with disabilities who has launched a unprecedented case against the UK government saying the abortion law discriminates against babies with disabilities by allowing abortion up to birth where a range of conditions are diagnosed, including Down Syndrome and cleft lip.
Sinn Féin is suggesting an amendment to the DUP motion to read: the Assembly “welcomes the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the specific legislative provision in the abortion legislation which goes beyond fatal foetal abnormalities to include non-fatal disabilities, including Down syndrome”.
The DUP motion was proposed by Assembly members Paul Givan, Joanne Bunting, Michelle McIlveen and Pam Cameron. There is no time limit in cases of a life-limiting condition or where a baby would suffer a severe disability.
Mr Givan, a Lagan Valley MLA, said that the DUP would continue to work for full rejection of the Westminster legislation, saying the Sinn Féin amendment “is a recognition of the flawed legislation that Westminster is imposing on the people of Northern Ireland”.
“Our motion recognises the flawed approach taken by the UK government in imposing this legislation, which is a devolved issue for Stormont, ” he said.
Pro-life group, Precious Life, said that the motion would not have the ability to repeal the law, but “it would shine a much-needed spotlight on the extremity of the Westminster-imposed abortion law, and opens up a vital discussion on this radical abortion regime at Stormont. The motion also focuses specifically on disability and seeks to ban abortion on the basis of disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome and cleft lip.”
“While the motion is a positive step forward, it is vital that pro-life people in Northern Ireland make it clear that to protect every child from abortion, we need full repeal of section 9, which allows abortion up to birth for a range of reasons,” they said.
The pro-life group said it was ‘shocking’ to see the anger expressed by abortion supporters at the move to protect unborn babies with disabilities. Amnesty International described the motion to ban abortion on some disability grounds as “a dangerous anti-choice agenda”.