Northern Ireland: Bill to stop abortion for disabilities including Down's syndrome passes second stage

Northern Ireland's Parliament Buildings, known as Stormont.Wikipedia

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill passed its second stage at the Northern Ireland Assembly by 48 votes to 12 on Monday evening.

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill proposes removing the current grounds in the abortion regulations that were imposed on Northern Ireland by the British Government in 2020, which allow abortion for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

The vote followed a long debate that lasted a number of hours during two sessions today. A number of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) gave impassioned speeches highlighting why they supported the Bill, many of them telling deeply personal stories from people with disabilities and their families who were supporting the Bill from constituencies throughout Northern Ireland.

It was announced during the debate that Sinn Féin would be abstaining from voting for the Bill at Second Stage. All Sinn Féin MLAs accordingly proceeded to abstain from voting for the Bill.

This followed an announcement from Sinn Féin on Sunday that the party would be bringing forward a proposal to the Northern Ireland Executive this week on the commissioning of abortion in Northern Ireland to increase abortion access across the region. Rival nationalist party Aontú has accused Sinn Féin of trying to "ramp up [...] the number of abortions in the North of Ireland".

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill will now proceed onto Committee Stage.

Strong support from the disability community and beyond

1,608 people with Down's syndrome and their families signed an open letter to party leaders in Northern Ireland urging them to support the Bill.

On 11 March, disability rights campaigner, Heidi Crowter, who herself has Down's syndrome, told the Health Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly that: "The law in Great Britain, and now sadly the law in Northern Ireland, tells me and other people with Down's syndrome that we are worth less than those without disabilities. That is why I want my voice to be heard and the laws to be fairer.

"My husband also has Down's Syndrome and I value him and I think society should too. The law makes me feel very sad it is saying that I, and people like me, may as well have not been born".

Nearly 27,000 people have signed a petition calling on political leaders in Northern Ireland to vote for the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: "Congratulations to Heidi Crowter and the wider community of people with disabilities who have worked so hard to achieve this outcome this evening.

"Tonight's vote is a significant milestone in the journey towards ending abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down's syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland. It's also amazing to see the very large majority that voted for this Bill. This reflects the overwhelming support that has been seen from the wider community for this Bill.

"This vote has sent a very clear message that people with disabilities are equally human and the people of Northern Ireland want the British Government's disability abortion provision, which directly discriminates against people with disabilities, removed as soon as possible."

Courtesy of Right to Life UK