The UK Government has announced that it will be providing travel, accommodation and free abortions in England for any women seeking an abortion that is legal in England and Wales but is not legal under the proposed regime in Northern Ireland.
If the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) does not reconvene by October 21st, a new abortion regime will be imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
The law change will repeal Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act in Northern Ireland, meaning the only legal protection for unborn children remaining would be the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 which only applies from 28-weeks gestation. That would mean that abortion would be available, on-demand, up to 28 weeks.
The new change in law will allow for abortion in cases where the unborn baby is perceived to have a disability, including cleft lip or palate and Down’s syndrome, through to 28-weeks. In England and Wales, while the current law is far more restrictive in most cases than the proposed law in Northern Ireland, although it does allow for abortion for disabilities right through to birth.
The Government’s announcement means that all pregnant mothers seeking abortions for babies with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and cleft lip will have travel, accommodation and abortion paid for if they seek an abortion between 28-weeks and birth in England.
The Government did not announce any new funding for supporting parents in Northern Ireland who have chosen to continue with their pregnancy after a diagnosis of a disability.
This goes beyond the current scheme offered by the Government, which provides funding for travel and accommodation for only those women who meet certain financial criteria.
In England and Wales, the latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.
Northern Ireland’s current approach is very different. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not permitted and there is a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability rather than eliminating them.
This is reflected directly in the latest figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while there were 52 children born with Down’s syndrome, in the same year, only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.
This change was condemned in two speeches by disabled peer Lord Shinkwin in the House of Lords when he was speaking against the proposed changes.
The travel incentive announcement comes after the Northern Ireland Office recently confirmed that it will launch a nationwide abortion marketing campaign across Northern Ireland if the abortion law changes on October 21st.
The Government has confirmed that the travel incentive scheme will remain in place after 31 March 2020 until they “are confident that service provision in Northern Ireland is available to meet women’s needs.”
Spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:
“After directly undermining devolution and imposing the most extreme abortion law in Europe on Northern Ireland, the UK Government has announced that they are going to make the situation even worse. This new travel incentive provides tax-payer funding for travel, accommodation and abortions for very late disability, selective abortions but no additional taxpayer funding to support parents who keep their babies diagnosed with a disability. This effectively amounts to a new state-sponsored incentive to abort babies with disabilities late in pregnancy.
“We call on Sinn Féin and the DUP to listen to the people of Northern Ireland and to re-establish Stormont so that democratic process can be restored and this extreme abortion regime will be halted.”