Abortion is an uncomfortable topic for many. It is emotive and, for the most part, people have very strong feelings about it. Never was that more apparent than in the debate over the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, also known as the Givan Bill, which passed Stage Two last week in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This Bill aims to amend one part of the Northern Ireland Abortion Regulations, which allows for abortion up to term for ‘severe fetal impairment.’ This includes conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft palette and club foot.
As I watched the debate on the Bill, I was amazed and discouraged by some of the arguments—and even more by the media backlash that followed.
Those opposed to the Bill described the result as further oppression of a woman’s right to health care and evidence of women being treated as second class citizens. One woman even described herself as ‘vibrating with rage’ at the passing of the Bill.
As a woman who supports the Bill and is fundamentally pro-life, I would like to speak to these concerns, but I would also like to address a greater concern that emerged from listening to the debates: that because I support this Bill, I do not support women’s rights or, worse, that I do not believe that they are important.
I found it troubling to listen as MLAs equated the issues surrounding the Bill to violence against women or control of women. I genuinely believe that any other female supporting this Bill would agree with me—that we feel as strongly about violence against women as they do. But to try and take my voice away because we disagree on the issue of abortion is surely against the whole principle of women’s equality.
I am a Christian and an advocate of women’s rights. I support equality for women, but I also believe in disability rights and I do not believe that removing the life of a baby in the womb is furnishing me with extra rights.
I agreed with Arlene Foster when she said, ‘It upsets me when I listen to people talk about women's rights, as if those of us who believe in supporting those who have disabilities and Down's syndrome should not have a voice. Let me say this: people in the House will not take away my voice to stand up for women who believe in protecting those young people with Down's syndrome who have value in our society.’
My desire to advocate for both women’s rights, disability and the rights of the unborn are a result of my faith in God, and because of that faith I advocate for all in equal measure.
When we look through the Bible, we see many examples of where God affords women rights well beyond what was socially acceptable: Queen Esther, when she approached the king; Rahab, when she hid the spies and was saved; Ruth, who was a destitute stranger in a foreign land and God’s provision saved her; and Mary, the woman that He chose to be the mother of Jesus. Then later with Jesus, we see an example of a man who treated women in a way that was revolutionary, with women holding significant roles in His Ministry.
The Bible also has a very high view of humanity. In Psalm 145 we are told that God loves and cares for all He has made without exception:
"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made."
When we look to the life of Jesus, we see that he had great compassion and respect for people with disabilities, challenging stereotypes of the time that if a person suffered from a disability it was the result of sin. Instead he showed that people with disabilities are created and loved by God. Jesus did not shy away from these people as was the custom of the time; he showed them love and healed many.
I find it disconcerting that this discourse surrounding women’s rights has become so entangled in the abortion debate that to support one, you must agree with the other.
I believe in a better path for women: one where we have all the rights that we deserve, with the respect and love that God planned for us. I believe that people with disabilities deserve the right to live and to be treated as equally valuable members of our society. And I believe that every baby deserves to be born.
It does not need to be one or the other, and it does not mean that because I support one, I lose my voice altogether.