The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted in favour of a DUP motion rejecting the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to abortion up to birth for all non-fatal disabilities, including Down Syndrome.
In total, 46 voted for the motion, with 40 against. A Sinn Fein amendment to the DUP motion was rejected.
It’s the first time the Assembly has considered the issue of abortion since it was restored in January this year, following a three-year absence.
The result will now increase the pressure on MPs and Peers at Westminster who will shortly be debating and voting on The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations.
If the regulations are approved at Westminster, it will ratify a decision made by the UK Parliament last year to impose extreme abortion law changes on Northern Ireland, despite the fact abortion policy is a devolved to the NI Assembly.
The regulations will result in abortion effectively on demand for 24 weeks and part seven of the regulations allows for abortion to birth if its predicted that the child will be ‘seriously disabled’.
In Great Britain, this terminology has been interpreted to include treatable disabilities like club foot, cleft lip and also Down’s syndrome as well.
Responding to the vote, CARE NI said the onus was now on MPs and Peers to accept that the issue of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be for the NI Assembly to decide.
CARE NI’s Chief Executive, Nola Leach, said: “This is a very welcome outcome and it’s good to see the Northern Ireland Assembly sending such a clear message that abortion to birth for non-fatal disabilities and Down’s syndrome is not acceptable.
“We also welcome the fact more than 70 MLAs voted against disability discrimination.
“The Northern Ireland Assembly has effectively voted against the imposition of extreme abortion legislation and the UK Government must now withdraw the Regulations.
“It cannot ask the Westminster Parliament to pass regulations on a devolved matter when the Assembly has not only been restored but also voted to indicate that it does not support the Regulations.
“It would also involve asking MPs and Peers to vote for a form of disability discrimination which belongs not only to another century but another millennium.
“If the Government proceeds that then MPs and Peers must vote to reject these Regulations.
“We must remember that laws send social signals and we believe the regulations proposed by Westminster will harm, not help, women and babies across Northern Ireland.
“In light of this vote, we are calling again on MPs and Peers at Westminster to reject the regulations and hand the matter back over to the Assembly.
“It is up to the members of the Assembly to decide on abortion policy in Northern Ireland, not British MPs and Peers who do not represent the people of Northern Ireland.”
A spokesperson for the Pro Life Campaign said: “The result shows what can happen when the political establishment doesn’t censor debate and allows the pro-life side to get a fair hearing. The heart-breaking personal testimonies of women who regret their abortions and the intervention of people like disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowter all helped influence the outcome.
“Following this evening’s vote, Westminster cannot justifiably continue to try and impose abortion on Northern Ireland. It is clear from the 46:40 vote that this devolved issue should be decided by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives and not the UK parliament.”
Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK, said: “Tonight’s vote has made it clear that the UK Government must urgently hand back this devolved matter to the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland at the Assembly.
“The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose these extreme regulations on Northern Ireland.
“Seventy-nine per cent of respondents to the Government consultation on these regulations were opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond what was previously permitted.”
Picture: Archive photo, dated 30th November 2019, shows pro-lifers holding a vigil outside Stormont against abortion being imposed in Northern Ireland. (Brian Lawless/PA).