Action alert – Bill receives First Reading, ask your MP to sign EDM 521

Today the Abortion (Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate and Clubfoot) Bill received a First Reading. This was a short procedure that took place after Prime Minister’s Questions where Fiona Bruce MP presented the Bill to the Commons. This Bill will change the law to clarify that cleft palate, cleft lip, and clubfoot are not grounds for abortion in the UK.

You may have seen there has been a large amount of positive media coverage around the Bill in the national media and some coverage in outlets overseas since it was launched, including articles in the Sunday Times, Sun on Sunday and the Guardian. 

We are also seeing a large amount of support for the Bill building online from people with these conditions along with support from the wider public. Thank you to everyone who is helping get the word out about the Bill by sharing Stand Up and Smile campaign content on social media.

TAKE ACTION – ASK YOUR MP TO SIGN EDM 521

To coincide with First Reading of the Bill, Carla Lockhart MP is leading a group of MPs who have launched an Early Day Motion which MPs can sign to show their support for the Abortion (Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate and Clubfoot) Bill.

We are aiming to get as many MPs as possible to sign this Early Day Motion (EDM 521) so that we can demonstrate to Parliament and the Government that there is strong support for the Bill.

It would be very helpful if you could contact your MP to ask them to sign this Early Day Motion.

We have updated the pre-written email on the email MP function on our website with new text asking your MP to sign the Early Day Motion. Please click the button to email your MP on this now. It only takes 30 seconds.

Once you have emailed your MP, please do let friends and family know to email their MP.  

Thank you for your help on this.

Abortion (Cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot) Bill receives First Reading

A Bill which would change the law to clarify that cleft palate, cleft lip, cleft palate and lip, and club foot are not grounds for abortion in the UK has received a First Reading this afternoon. 

The Abortion (Cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot) Bill, which has cross-party support, was presented by Fiona Bruce MP shortly after today’s Prime Minister’s Questions and urgent questions. 

An early day motion supporting the Bill has also been launched by Carla Lockhart MP and she is encouraging MPs to sign the motion to show their support for the Bill. 

Both the Bill and early day motion have the support of a cross-party group of MPs from the UK Parliament’s three largest parties.

The issue of abortion for such minor and correctable conditions is of personal significance to Fiona as her son was born with club foot.

Decades after his club foot was corrected by two operations and a year of physiotherapy, Fiona’s son is now studying for a doctorate at Oxford.

Speaking to The Sun about her son, Fiona said: “Being born with this condition has not held my son back, rather the opposite. It has given him a depth of understanding about the value of every human life.

“Now in his mid-20s, he lives life to the full and no one would ever know, apart from the most experienced clinician in this field. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived my son of life.”

She added: “This is a sensible law change that I am inviting all MPs, regardless of where they stand on the wider issue of abortion, to get behind and support.

“It has now been 30 years since Parliament properly reviewed our law on abortion for disability.

“Every child with one of these conditions deserves the same chance of life as my son. I also want to ensure that no parent has to go through any pressure to abort their baby for what is clearly a correctable condition.

“It’s time our legislation caught up to reflect society’s positive changes in attitudes towards those born with disabilities and medical advances in the intervening years.”

Currently, abortion is allowed up to birth for babies with disabilities. This has been interpreted to include cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot, meaning abortion is legal up to birth based solely on a primary diagnosis of one of these conditions.

All of these conditions can be easily corrected after birth but stories of women who have been offered abortion following the diagnosis of a cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot on their child have proliferated the media since the Bill was announced.

One such mother is Sophie Caldecott, who was offered abortions throughout her pregnancy after her 20-week scan showed her daughter had clubfoot. 

Sharing her story with the Guardian, Sophie said: “My daughter is now six and you can’t tell that there was anything wrong with her feet or ankles now, thanks to very minor surgery in her first few months and physiotherapy. But when the sonographer discovered the problem, she told my husband and me that we could have our money back for the scans, and implied it was likely we’d want an abortion.”

Sophie was then offered another abortion at her next scan, five weeks later. She commented: “On the one hand, medical professionals were reassuring me that this was a minor birth defect that could be easily corrected, yet on the other, I was being offered an abortion after the usual 24-week cut-off point as though my child had a severe and life-altering disability.”

Lauren Bolt, whose two-year-old daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate, told The Times it was “time legislation caught up to reflect society’s positive change in attitudes towards those born with disabilities, and medical advances”

David Smyth, a lawyer and charity boss who was born with a cleft lip, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s shocking babies can be aborted up to birth [for a cleft lip] – the law must change.” 

Official abortion statistics for England and Wales show that abortions are happening on the grounds that a baby has one of these conditions. According to the Department of Health & Social Care, seventy-five babies with either a cleft lip or cleft palate as their principal condition were aborted between 2011 and 2018. 

However due to underreporting the figures are likely to be much higher, for example a 2013 review by Eurocat showed 157 babies were aborted for cleft lip and palate in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. However, the Department of Health & Social Care (DoHSC) recorded only 14 such abortions.

While the Government are reluctant to release data on club foot terminations, data reported by Eurocat showed that 205 babies with club foot were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010.

There is no shortage of testimonials from individuals who have been diagnosed with cleft lip, cleft palate or club foot and were not held back, including Steven Gerrard, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristi Yamaguchi and Carmit Bachar.

Polling from SavantaComRes shows that only one in three people think it is acceptable to ban abortion for gender or race but allow it for disability. The support for allowing disability-selective abortion for conditions such as club foot, cleft lip and cleft palate is likely even lower.

Right To Life UK has launched the Stand Up and Smile campaign and is encouraging members of the public to visit the campaign page at www.standupandsmile.org.uk where they can ask their MP to support the Bill.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“As a society, we should be empowering those with disabilities, and take great pride in the positive contribution they make to our country. To do this, we have a moral obligation to quash anything that perpetuates false and negative stereotypes towards those with a disability, and that is why we support the group of cross-party MPs who have brought forward this important Bill to help end disability-discrimination in the womb. 

People are shocked and horrified when they discover that abortion is permitted up to birth after the diagnosis of cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubfoot as the primary condition, believing it goes against the very fabric of what our country stands for today.   

Our abortion legislation is badly in need of reform to end this unjust discrimination, and we hope this Bill is successful in helping end this disability-discrimination.”

Northern Ireland Assembly votes to reject Westminster imposed abortion regulations

The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed a motion opposing the extreme abortion regime which had been imposed on the province by the UK Government.

New abortion regulations were drawn up by Westminster last year in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. They came into force in March.

But, yesterday, MLAs voted to reject the extreme abortion regulations by 46 votes to 40.

The motion, was tabled in response to Heidi Crowter, the 24-year-old disability campaigner, who has spoken out against the proposal of the UK Government to impose on Northern Ireland abortion up to birth in cases of disabilities like Heidi’s own, Down’s syndrome.

In proposing the motion MLA Joanne Bunting referred to how Heidi said the law was “offensive and hurtful”.

Ms Bunting added that, as Heidi argued, the law was clearly saying “that people with Down’s syndrome or other disabilities are of less value that people with without disabilities”.

Welcoming the outcome of the debate, DUP MLA Paul Givan said: “The Assembly has now rejected these extreme abortion regulations on the basis of how they discriminate against the unborn especially those with disabilities.”

He added: “The regulations imposed by Westminster have led to Northern Ireland having the most liberal abortion regime in Europe.

“This approach undermined the devolution settlement, but worst of all facilitated the ending of so many precious lives. That is something that the majority of people here in Northern Ireland are against.”

MPs and Peers at the UK Parliament are due to vote later this month on whether to approve or reject regulations that introduce an extreme abortion regime to Northern Ireland.

Whilst the vote at the Northern Ireland Assembly will not directly change the law in Northern Ireland, it has sent a very strong message to the UK Government, MPs and Peers at Westminster that Northern Ireland reject these regulations being imposed on the province. 

This will make it much more difficult for MPs and Peers to vote to impose these regulations on Northern Ireland when they have been resoundingly rejected by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

If MPs and Peers vote down the redrafted regulations later this month, the UK Government will then be forced to draft the regulations for a third time to be either less extreme or bring forward legislation allowing parliament to vote on revoking the regulations. The second of those options would give back control to the people of Northern Ireland through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Polling organised by the University of Liverpool and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council has shown that 58% of Sinn Féin voters and 54% of DUP voters want their country’s new abortion framework to only allow abortions when the mother’s life is at risk. Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through to 24 weeks, which is in line with what the Government has introduced to Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Tonight’s vote has made it clear that the UK Government must urgently hand back this devolved matter to the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland at the Assembly.

“The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose these extreme regulations on Northern Ireland. 

79% of respondents to the Government consultation on these regulations were opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond what was previously permitted. 

“Polling shows the majority of Sinn Féin and DUP voters want their country’s new abortion framework to only allow abortions when the mother’s life is at risk. Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through to 24 weeks, which is in line with what the Government will be introducing to Northern Ireland. This polling shows a clear rejection from the people of Northern Ireland for the UK Government’s regulations. If the devolution settlement of Stormont is to be respected, the cross-community view against this extreme abortion framework must be respected.

“With Stormont having been restored for over five months, it is vital that the people of Northern Ireland have a say on their country’s new abortion framework through their elected representatives in the Northern Irish Assembly. It’s time to end this blatant undermining of devolution and hand back control on this devolved issue to Northern Ireland.” 

Voted in favour of the motion 🙂

  • Andy Allen, UUP
  • Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice
  • Rosemary Barton, UUP
  • Paula Bradley, DUP
  • Maurice Bradley, DUP
  • Sinéad Bradley, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Thomas Buchanan, DUP
  • Keith Buchanan, DUP
  • Jonathan Buckley, DUP
  • Joanne Bunting, DUP
  • Robbie Butler, UUP
  • Pam Cameron, DUP
  • Pat Catney, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Alan Chambers, UUP
  • Trevor Clarke, DUP
  • Diane Dodds, DUP
  • Gordon Dunne, DUP
  • Mark Durkan, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Alex Easton, DUP
  • Arlene Foster, DUP
  • Paul Frew, DUP
  • Paul Givan, DUP
  • Harry Harvey, DUP
  • David Hilditch, DUP
  • William Humphrey, DUP
  • William Irwin, DUP
  • Dolores Kelly, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Gordon Lyons, DUP
  • Chris Lyttle, Alliance
  • Nichola Mallon, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Daniel McCrossan, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Patsy McGlone, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Colin McGrath, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Michelle McIlveen, DUP
  • Justin McNulty, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Gary Middleton, DUP
  • Mike Nesbitt, UUP
  • Robin Newton, DUP
  • Edwin Poots, DUP
  • George Robinson, DUP
  • Christopher Stalford, DUP
  • John Stewart, UUP
  • Mervyn Storey, DUP
  • Robin Swann, UUP
  • Peter Weir, DUP
  • Jim Wells, Independent Unionist

Voted against the motion 🙁

  • Kellie Armstrong, Alliance
  • John Blair, Alliance
  • Paula Bradshaw, Alliance
  • Stewart Dickson, Alliance
  • Naomi Long, Alliance
  • Trevor Lunn, Independent
  • Andrew Muir, Alliance
  • Clare Bailey, Green
  • Rachel Woods, Green
  • Claire Sugden, Independent
  • Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance
  • Caoimhe Archibald, Sinn Féin
  • Cathal Boylan, Sinn Féin
  • Linda Dillon, Sinn Féin
  • Jemma Dolan, Sinn Féin
  • Sinéad Ennis, Sinn Féin
  • Órlaithí Flynn, Sinn Féin
  • Colm Gildernew, Sinn Féin
  • Deisre Hargey, Sinn Féin
  • Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin
  • Catherine Kelly, Sinn Féin
  • Liz Kimmins, Sinn Féin
  • Sean Lynch, Sinn Féin
  • Declan McAleer, Sinn Féin
  • Fra McCann, Sinn Féin
  • Philip McGuigan, Sinn Féin
  • Maolíosa McHugh, Sinn Féin
  • Karen Mullan, Sinn Féin
  • Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin
  • Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin
  • John O’Dowd, Sinn Féin
  • Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin
  • Emma Rogan, Sinn Féin
  • Pat Sheehan, Sinn Féin
  • Emma Sheerin, Sinn Féin
  • Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin
  • Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin
  • Sinead McLaughlin, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Matthew O’Toole, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Steve Aiken, UUP

Abstained

  • Cara Hunter, Social Democratic and Labour Party