An MLA and a Down’s syndrome campaigner have told The Christian Institute why they are fighting to change the laws on abortion for disabilities.
Paul Givan MLA made the news this week, after he brought forward a Private Member’s Bill to remove the section of the law in Northern Ireland which currently allows unborn children with a non-fatal disability to be aborted up to birth.
Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down’s syndrome, is supportive of the new Bill, having previously urged the NI Assembly to reject the new abortion regime imposed by Westminster, which allows the abortion of unborn babies with Down’s.
‘Dignity of human life’
Speaking to Ciarán Kelly, the Institute’s Deputy Director for Communications, Mr Givan said he wants Northern Ireland to have legislation that “respects the dignity of all human life”. The MLA says he has been touched by people’s personal experiences of the law.
“Whenever they say to me that this law makes them feel less valued, less worthy than other people, then I think it’s incumbent on people in political office to respond to that and to seek to remove that type of legislation.
“I’ve spoken to families here in Northern Ireland and they’re part of this campaign and they’ve spoken about how their son or daughter has Down’s syndrome and how they find this legislation offensive”.
He said they were joining the campaign “because they want to fight for a society that doesn’t regard people with Down’s syndrome as a diagnosis or a problem, and that actually it is something that is unique which is to be cherished and that enriches our community”.
Disability campaigner Heidi, whose husband James also has the condition, got involved in campaigning for change in Northern Ireland because she believes the law is discriminatory.
The law currently classes her condition as a ‘severe impairment’, but she said it is “definitely not”. She said: “I’m someone who has Down’s syndrome and if I was really impaired I wouldn’t be able to marry James. I can cook, I can clean. And I wouldn’t be able to get the top mark in GCSE French.”
Heidi said she personally feels discriminated against by the law, adding: “I don’t tolerate any discrimination because I believe that everyone has a right to life, and I want people to just accept me as I am.”
She continued: “I had an interview with Sky News ages ago and they said my husband is Down’s. I said well he has Down’s, and it’s only an extra chromosome.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Heidi’s mother Liz described her daughter as “somebody who is living a fulfilled and independent and absolutely amazing life”.
She said: “To think that she could be aborted right up to birth in 2021, when we’re all about anti-discrimination after birth, it’s obviously very sad and upsetting for her that somebody thinks that she could be aborted right up to that time.”
Liz added that she hoped the Bill would have cross-community support, pointing out that when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted on a non-binding motion rejecting the current law last year, “75 out of 90” voted to reject it.
Watch the full interview with Paul Givan and Heidi Crowter:
Listen as Liz Crowter speaks to BBC Radio 4: