The Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday voted for a law that would restrict abortion due to non-fatal disability.
The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion Bill (Amendment) was passed in second reading 48-12 and will now move on to the next phase of the debate.
The law, introduced in January by Paul Givan, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, would eliminate “serious fetal harm” as an exception to the country’s abortion laws.
Currently, the Northern Irish Abortion Act, which came into force almost a year ago, allows elective abortions for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions up to 24 weeks are legal if the mother’s physical or mental health is found to be at risk. Abortions up to the time of birth are permitted in the event of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.
Under current law, an unborn child diagnosed with a condition such as Down syndrome or cleft palate can be terminated beyond the legal limit of 24 weeks.
Disability rights activists – including Don’t Screen Us Out and Heidi Crowter, an Irish woman with Down syndrome – have welcomed the bill, calling the current law “outright discrimination” against people with disabilities.
The bishops in Northern Ireland also strongly supported the proposal.
Givan’s bill would still allow later abortions in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.
“Current law tells people with disabilities that they are worth less than other people, that their contribution is less valuable, that their life is less important and less full,” Givan said in a statement.
“The idea that Down syndrome is a huge problem that abortion should address is terrifying,” he said. “You don’t have to look far to see the full lives of people with disabilities. They enrich our communities and families. “
Speaking on Good Morning Ulster, Givan said his law was “an opportunity for people to come together and fight an adverse, discriminatory law,” referring to the existing abortion law.
Laws like the Disability Act of 1995 have provided “support” for “people with disabilities” – support that should be extended to the unborn child.
“I believe that these rights – and these are human rights – should be given to people before they are born, and that is what this campaign is about,” he said.
Abortion became legal in Northern Ireland in April 2020 after the UK Parliament imposed changes to the region’s abortion and marriage laws and local lawmakers did not block the changes.
Before March 31st, Northern Ireland law allowed an abortion only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was a risk of long-term or permanent serious damage to her mental or physical health. The region was not included in the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act, which legalized abortion.