NI Assembly to debate abortions for disabilities

The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont will today debate the recent imposition of new abortion laws on the Province.

Westminster politicians voted in July to impose a far more liberal abortion law than in the rest of the UK. The changes were brought in at the end of March, but the motion being debated later today rejects a key part of those laws.

While the vote would not change the law if passed, First Minister Arlene Foster says it would “send a message” to Westminster that Stormont does not support the changes.

Down’s syndrome

Currently, the law in Northern Ireland effectively permits abortions to take place up to 24 weeks for any reason, and up to birth if the baby is deemed to have a severely life-limiting condition, or a ‘severe’ disability.

In the UK, this rule has been used to justify abortions for children with Down’s syndrome, club foot, and cleft palate.

Down’s syndrome campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has the condition herself, says this is discriminatory and that the provision allowing abortions for disabilities after 24 weeks should be removed from the law.

Cross-party support

The DUP, which called the debate, welcomed “the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter” and motioned that Stormont “rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down syndrome”.

Sinn Féin, which is pro-abortion, also recognises that the Westminster law is too extreme, and is open to some limited changes.

It has proposed an amendment to the DUP motion, stating that the Assembly: “rejects the specific legislative provision in the abortion legislation which goes beyond fatal foetal abnormalities to include non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”.

This would demonstrate cross-party support for rejecting abortion on the basis of disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, cleft palate and club foot.

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