Calls to ‘modernise’ Northern Ireland’s abortion law have been criticised by a former senior MLA in the wake of a powerful BBC documentary on Down’s syndrome.
Sally Phillips’ programme, ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’, considered a new 99 per cent accurate screening test for Down’s which could be made available on the NHS.
Following the programme, former SDLP chairman Alban Maginness highlighted calls to weaken Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation.
Life at risk
Currently abortion is only permitted when the mother’s life is at risk and Stormont voted earlier this year against a change.
But Maginness – who recently retired as an MLA – spoke of a “concerted effort by some politicians and UK-based pressure groups” to water down the law.
He asked: “Before we ‘modernise’ our present law and join the ‘progressive’ ranks of freely available abortion in Western Europe, should we not stop and ask ourselves: does the abortion of seriously disabled babies make the world a better place?”
Maginness, a former SDLP MLA for North Belfast, said the “pervasive gentleness and love” shown in the documentary had won over viewers.
It presented people with Down’s syndrome, he said, as being people, “rather than being abnormal or odd”.
“We were thrown into the world of Down’s syndrome, with the good and the bad aspects of life there”, he said.
Maginness then noted the current situation in Great Britain where abortion is allowed up to birth if the child is disabled.
He questioned whether the increase in options around abortion really leads to “greater happiness”.
He went on to say that there were questions about what sort of world we are striving for and who we want in it.
Brave new world
“Is our brave new world a world free of serious imperfection? Are we so perfect ourselves?”
In February, MLAs voted 59 to 40 against amending legislation to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. They voted 64 to 32 against allowing abortion in cases of sexual crime.