Over 1,500 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter urging Northern Ireland’s political leaders to vote in favour of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill at its second reading.
The Bill, which was introduced last month by Paul Givan MLA, seeks to amend the current Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020 to no longer allow unborn babies with a ‘serious fetal impairment’ (SFI) to be aborted to term.
Under the current provision in the Abortion (Northern Ireland) regulations, babies in Northern Ireland with disabilities, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, can be singled out for abortion because of their disability and aborted right up until term. Campaigners have highlighted that this is distressing for families who are preparing for the birth of their child, and also to people with disabilities.
The new Bill, produced in association with the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, sends a clear message that people with disabilities are equal to others.
Lynn Murray, spokesperson for the campaign said: “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. 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.”
The Bill has been backed by many individuals who have Down’s syndrome or have a family member with the disability.
Campaigners say the current law in Northern Ireland communicates to people with disabilities that their lives are less worthy of protection than the lives of those without disabilities, perpetuating deeply unhelpful stereotypes about their quality of life, by suggesting it might be better for them not to have been born.
Picture: Campaigner Heidi Crowter.