abortion disability northern ireland
Ethics & Morality

Abortion in Northern Ireland: the disabled speak out

On 10th July 2019, the UK Parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill which would liberalise abortion legalisation in Northern Ireland. The Act, including this amendment, will take effect after 21st October if the Stormont Assembly is not reinstated by then. It removes vital legal protections for the unborn, and would effectively permit abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks.

There are a number of case studies of people living with disabilities or have children with disabilities who wish to speak out now against the liberalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. These personal stories reflect their own feelings, in particular their fear that society would see them as a liability, a drain on resources, and of little or no human value.

Nicola’s story

Nicola is a mother of three children, all boys, and all equally wonderful and worthy of life. Her eldest son Daniel is 6 years old, and attends the local primary school. He loves football, playing in the park, reading books and eating as much ice cream and cake as he his allowed.

In May 2012, when Nicola was about 24 weeks pregnant, she and her husband were told that Daniel had Down’s Syndrome. Medical professionals did not provide balanced information when giving the diagnosis: there is no 100% certainty in predicting outcomes for babies antenatally, but when there is a disability diagnosis, the information is presented as if the baby is a problem and they provide you with as much information as possible about the issues your baby could potentially have. This is obviously a flawed approach as the prognosis involves much conjecture, and a disabled baby is only a problem if you see it that way. Nicola says:

Despite the negative presentation of medical information, because of our strict abortion law here in Northern Ireland, my pregnancy with Daniel was honoured and respected by the medical staff at every appointment. In GB, routinely a Down Syndrome diagnosis is given alongside the leaflet outlining possible health conditions and available abortion slots for the week. The assumption is abortion. I’ve come into contact with other parents in GB who had to write in marker pen on the outside of their maternity file “Do not discuss abortion – we are keeping our baby”, as it was brought up at every appointment.

Thankfully, following the diagnosis, our medical team were supportive and excited at each appointment to talk about Daniel. We even told them his name during the pregnancy – we didn’t share it with our families until he was born! This kind of approach to pregnancy diagnoses is what families want, medical staff to recognise the humanity and value of each baby, no matter how many chromosomes.

People are deluded if they think the proposed changes won’t have a negative impact on the Down Syndrome community here in Northern Ireland. Over 90% of antenatal diagnoses in GB are aborted, yet almost no babies are here in Northern Ireland. 52 babies with Down Syndrome were born in Northern Ireland in 2016. In the same year, only one baby with Down Syndrome from Northern Ireland was aborted [in England/Wales].

We live in the safest place to be diagnosed with a disability. If the Government’s legislation comes into effect, it would allow babies with Down Syndrome to be aborted up to 28 weeks simply because they have a disability. This would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for disability in Northern Ireland and would reduce the numbers of the Down Syndrome community. People with Down Syndrome aren’t stupid. They understand that the screening and abortion statistics around Down Syndrome, and other disabilities, implies their lives are not worth living and the absolute opposite is the case.

Alan’s story

Living with Cerebral Palsy I have realised that the motivation behind much of the abortion that takes place is the same motivation that pervades much of society. In my experience there is an underlying bias against disability, but now it has developed and sometimes encouraged into a pre-birth prejudice against any kind of disability or deformity.

This thirst for abortion reveals a lot about our society. It highlights the confused value system that we have adopted. Society has become ‘heroic centric’, where the strong, the capable, the attractive, the intelligent and the affluent are the people who really matter. While those who are disabled or different are viewed as unnecessary for the well-being of society. Abortion, a form of ‘social engineering’, defends and caters to our ‘heroic centric’ society. This dynamic is seen played out in the UK, where 90% of babies with Downs Syndrome are aborted.

I believe that prenatal diagnosis can be a very positive thing, in that it can prepare parents for any eventuality that may occur. The problem I have is when the diagnosis is turned into a death sentence, and a life is terminated because of a deformity, disability or disease.

I do not want to underestimate the challenges or pain it is for parents to live with a disabled or sick new born, nor do I want to belittle the long-term emotional and physical challenges there will be in caring for that child. But I would say that a ‘death sentence’, is not a solution.

From my perspective, a society that tries to eradicate conditions like Down’s Syndrome, Spina Bifida or any other malady through abortion is a society that has lost its way. It is a society that has lost it capacity for acceptance, tolerance and compassion. The heartlessness that lies behind the social engineering of abortion has been captured on twitter by Richard Dawkins. The Oxford Professor posted the message on Twitter in response to a user who wrote she would be faced with “a real ethical dilemma” if she became pregnant and learned that the baby would be born with Down’s syndrome.

“Abort it and try again,” Dawkins tweeted in reply. “It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” This dehumanising response expressed through the use of the word ‘it’ allows people to become emotionally disconnected, making it easier for them to ‘justify’ their pro-abortion stance.

What I believe is immoral is Mr Dawkins’ attitude towards life in the womb as something that can be reduced to a disposable commodity: if it’s not quite what you want, sure, get rid and try again!

As a Christian I believe that every person, irrespective of their ability or inability, have been created in the image of God and as such every human being is a person of immeasurable value and of great worth. Because of this, I believe that those of us who are against abortion need to go beyond protesting and fulfil our moral obligation to support and provide both practical and emotional help for those who find themselves in pregnancy crisis.

The ‘heroic centric’, nature of our society has diminished us, robbing us of our need to love, our ability to recognise dignity and the grace to accept those who are vulnerable. We need to bring into the debate a recognition that all life is precious and therefore worth protecting.

For those who favour ‘progressive’ liberal abortion rights in Northern Ireland, there is no incentive to work toward the reinstatement of the Stormont Assembly. Forget a ‘no deal’ Brexit: direct rule from Westminster is already a reality.