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Disability campaigners 'devastated' by Northern Ireland abortion Bill defeat

by Donna Birrell

Disability campaigners say they're deeply disappointed after a Bill in Northern Ireland which would have prevented abortion up to birth for babies with a non-fatal disability was rejected.

Abortion is currently legal in Northern Ireland up to birth for babies with a diagnosis of disabilities such as Down's Syndrome or cleft palate. 

Assembly members voted by 45 to 42 to reject a key clause in the Severe Foetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill at its consideration stage.

Those against it included Sinn Féin, some SDLP, Alliance, Ulster Unionist, Green MLAs and People Before Profit.

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Right Reverend Dr David Bruce expressed dismay at the Bill's defeat.

"We are deeply disappointed that this legislation was rejected by a very narrow majority of MLAs. The decision by MLAs sends a profound message to society about the value that is placed on all human life. Within PCI we affirm that all human life has value and dignity, because of our belief that we are all made in the image of God. We believe that our worth and identify derives from this principle, rather than a subjective judgement about quality of life, and the ability to make a contribution to wider society.

"To provide abortion services to full-term on the grounds of non-fatal disability has the potential to create a culture where termination is considered to be an option 'just in case' quality of life is not as good as had been expected with a child without a disability."

Lynn Murray is from the disability rights' charity Don't Screen Us Out and is the mother of a daughter with Down's Syndrome. She's been speaking to Premier about the vote.

"What's quite devastating is to see that this important piece of legislation is unlikely to proceed further in the Northern Ireland Assembly. There's been very overwhelming public support for this law to change and almost 100% of the submissions to the Northern Ireland Committee for Health Consultation on the Bill supported this important law change. We've seen MLAs supporting this as  well, so it really is quite devastating.

"The law in Great Britain was laid down a long time ago, when we had a very different perception of what life was like with disability. We claim though that we have a different view on that now and therefore, any law that should be brought about now should consider the fact that a life of disability is as equal to any other life, and we should not discriminate against it in any law."

Opponents of the Bill and pro-choice campaigners had argued that the Bill was an attempt to erode women's reproductive rights.

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