Northern Ireland Assembly rejects abortion up to birth for disabilities

Both Lives Matter campaigners outside Stormont(Photo: Both Lives Matter)

The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted against changes to abortion regulations imposed by Westminster. 

MLAs voted 46 to 40 to reject abortion up to birth in cases of non-fatal disabilities like cleft lip and club foot. 

The motion was tabled following a campaign against prenatal disability discrimination by Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old with Down's syndrome.  

Both Lives Matter services advocate Marion Woods welcomed the outcome of Tuesday's vote.

"As a society it is incumbent on us to learn from the evidence and stand firm against the introduction of such discrimination," she said.

"It is hypocritical of us as citizens of NI to applaud and support the achievements of the participants of the Special Olympics if we do not first defend the rights of unborn babies with disabilities in the womb.

"Both lives matter before and after birth and so we call on our local Assembly to ensure that women and families who face a prenatal diagnosis of disability are supported during pregnancy and post-birth.

"We have within recent months witnessed the amazing contribution of NI citizens to ensuring the protection of our elderly and vulnerable in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Now it is time to focus on doing likewise for our unborn babies, women and families in the face of the devastating global pandemic that is abortion."

The result comes ahead of a vote later this month by MPs and peers in the UK Parliament on whether to approve or reject regulations introducing an extreme abortion framework to Northern Ireland. 

The Right to Life UK campaign group said Tuesday's vote by MLAs would make it more difficult for Westminster to pass the regulations and that it should give control over abortion back to the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

"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," said Right to Life spokesperson Catherine Robinson.

"The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose these extreme regulations on Northern Ireland." 

She added: "With Stormont having been restored for over five months, it is vital that the people of Northern Ireland have a say on their country's new abortion framework through their elected representatives in the Northern Irish Assembly.

"It's time to end this blatant undermining of devolution and hand back control on this devolved issue to Northern Ireland."

Polling by the University of Liverpool and Britain's Economic and Social Research Council has found broad support among voters for a narrower abortion framework, with 58% of Sinn Féin voters and 54% of DUP voters wanting to allow abortions only when the mother's life is at risk.

According to the study, only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion up to 24 weeks as outlined in the current framework introduced to Northern Ireland by Westminster.

Nola Leach, chief executive of Christian campaign group CARE NI, said the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly sent a clear message that disability abortion is not acceptable. 

"The Northern Ireland Assembly has effectively voted against the imposition of extreme abortion legislation and the UK Government must now withdraw the regulations," she said. 

"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."

She continued: "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."