Today, Paul Givan MLA introduced his new Bill at the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill will make it illegal to abort a baby right up to birth (40+ weeks) for disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, club foot or cleft lip. At CARE NI, we’re fully supporting the Bill and here’s why.
The Bill addresses obvious discrimination.
At the heart of the Bill is a recognition that when it comes to abortion, the law in Northern Ireland treats you differently if you have a disability than if you don’t.
For a baby with no disability, the law says abortion can take place up to 24 weeks for almost any reason. But for a baby with a disability, it can take place up to term (40+ weeks).
By having a different time-limit for abortion on the grounds of non-fatal disability, you discriminate and unavoidably perpetuate stereotypes towards persons with disabilities—such as the idea that they cannot live a good life. We know this to be totally untrue.
Look at King David's love and care for Mephibosheth who ate at the King's table and was lame in both feet. Put this text alongside the bible's insistence that humans are 'fearfully and wonderfully made' and it's clear that from a Christian perspective, disability discrimination is wrong.
"And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king's table; he was lame in both feet." 2 Samuel 9:13
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14
We should support laws that promote greater respect for life
As a charity committed to the value of every person, from conception through to its life's natural end, it’s right to support legislation, however limited in its scope, that aims to promote life.
This Bill seeks to stop abortion to birth for disabilities and, if passed, it will therefore help to save lives.
It also sends a strong message that the lives of those with disabilities across Northern Ireland are no less valuable than those without.
The Bill is just a first step
There will be those who say this Bill is too ‘thin’ and simply doesn’t go far enough to address the clear threat to life posed by Northern Ireland’s abortion law.
Our view at CARE NI is we want life-affirming laws that uphold the value and dignity of both women and babies.
Clearly, this Bill does only address one aspect of Northern Ireland’s abortion law. But to get to the end result of a culture with life-affirming laws, you have to start somewhere.
This leads on to another key argument.
There is political support for the Bill
In any kind of political campaigning, you need to factor in political realities. Last year, 75 out of 90 MLAs either voted for a motion or an amended motion opposing abortion to term (40+ weeks) for non-fatal disabilities.
The success of that motion is clear evidence that there is support within the Northern Ireland Assembly for some changes to the Westminster imposed abortion law.
Paul Givan’s Bill simply builds on this support and, as such, there is a higher possibility of a Bill like this actually passing and becoming law.
Pro-life groups ultimately want the same thing
Not all pro-life groups agree on everything. Some take an ‘absolutist’ position, rejecting any step-by-step approach to end abortion.
Others, like CARE NI, take an incrementalist position. This is where you pursue change one step at a time, taking into account the political realities.
But, crucially, the disagreement is over how you get to the same destination, namely, a culture where abortion is unthinkable, not over the end destination.
There will be lots of noise made about this Bill. For some, it represents the first step of an evil agenda to stop abortions from happening at all. For others, it’s a ‘sell-out’ and a ‘compromise’ that doesn’t go far enough.
For the reasons set out above, at CARE, we will be supporting this Bill and Mr Givan, who has brought it forward.
Whatever your views on how you get to a culture where abortion is increasingly unthinkable, surely we can all agree that a Bill that will stop abortion for non-fatal disabilities up to term, and one that sends a message that the lives of disabled babies are not less valuable than others, is worth supporting.
As such, we urge you to get behind this Bill as the first step towards life-affirming law in Northern Ireland and contact your MLAs, asking them to vote in favour of the Bill at Stage Two.