NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s Bill to introduce abortion up to birth for children with Down’s syndrome – Parents speak out

Parents of children with Down’s syndrome, as well as leading Down’s syndrome advocacy groups, have spoken out against the New Zealand Government’s abortion Bill which will permit abortion up to birth for babies prenatally diagnosed with the condition. The Bill has been introduced following a pledge before the last election from the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to make widespread changes to abortion law.

On the final day (19/09) for public submissions on the New Zealand Abortion Legislation Bill, a number of parents have publicly voiced their concerns about the harmful impact this Bill will have on people with Down’s syndrome.

The new abortion Bill

Currently, there is a 20-week time limit for disability-selective abortions in New Zealand law.

The proposed legislation will see this time limit removed and abortion for babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome will be available up until birth, with the approval of a single doctor. 

In 2017, Saving Down Syndrome highlighted their concern that in her pledge to change the abortion laws, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, would end up introducing abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities. In response, Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.

Saving Down Syndrome, in their submission on the Abortion Legislation Bill, highlighted that Jacinda Ardern had broken that promise. Hundreds of people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter calling on Jacinda Ardern to not break her promise.

In their submission, Saving Down Syndrome highlighted that the relevant clause in the proposed New Zealand legislation, only requires one registered health practitioner, which could include a single nurse. By contrast, in Victoria, Australia – which has a similar law – there is a higher threshold requiring two doctors two approve a late term abortion.

In the handful of jurisdictions that have a similar clause, in practice this has allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome right up to birth. In fact, there have been over 1,600 abortions of babies with a disability in Victoria, Australia, since the law was changed in 2008.

Pressure to abort

Many parents recounted the pressure they were put under by health workers to either undergo prenatal genetic testing for Down’s Syndrome (with the assumption that the mother would then choose an abortion) or to have an abortion if genetic tests suggested their child had an Down’s Syndrome.

Aggie Brown, whose adopted son Reuben has Down’s Syndrome, said his birth mother was put under constant pressure to have an abortion once her child was prenatally diagnosed with having Down’s Syndrome.

“Unfortunately her GP was strongly asking her to consider having an abortion and was actually giving the birth mum all the worst scenario if she decided to keep the baby,” she said.

“The birth mum actually dreaded to go to her health visits because it was always brought up by the GP and we actually applaud the birth mum for sticking to her guns.”

Rachel Price, a New Zealand mother who has a daughter, Eden, with Down’s Syndrome, recounted a very similar experience during a subsequent pregnancy. Even when Rachel said that she did not want genetic testing on multiple occasions, the clinic she attended made an appointment for her anyway, which she told them to cancel.

“We were under immense pressure to go and have genetic counselling,” she said.

“But why? If we have another child with Down’s Syndrome we are quite OK with that and we will carry on with the pregnancy.”

The representative for the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, Diane Burnett also has a daughter, Jada, who has Down’s Syndrome, and she said the social and medical pressure was intense when she wanted to opt out of the prenatal screening process.

The women said the developments in prenatal screening aimed at detecting disabilities has led to an assumption that women will want an abortion if they find out their baby might have Down’s Syndrome.

They were concerned that New Zealand could edge closer to what has happened in countries such as Iceland, which has an almost 100% abortion rate for unborn babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome.

One parent, whose son has Down’s syndrome, went so far as to say routine abortion of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome was a form of eugenics.

“I think New Zealand can do better than Iceland. I feel really saddened to hear that Iceland abort 99 percent of people that have Down’s Syndrome,” she said.

“To me that seems like a eugenics programme, and that’s just madness.”

What’s it actually like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome?

In addition to the pressures they felt in regard to abortion, all the parents were eager to let others know how happy their children with Down’s Syndrome were, and the one-sided nature of the discussion which rarely shows this.

Diane Burnett of the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association said women are just not given the full picture when they find out. “They are given very medical and clinical information,” she said.

“Figures on heart conditions and health conditions and hearing loss and eyesight problems, and people with Down’s Syndrome are not the only people who have those issues.”

“They’re not getting what it is actually like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome.”

Aggie Brown whose adopted son had Downs’ Syndrome said “Most people know that with Down’s Syndrome they carry the happy gene, they are always smiling,” she said.

“They do have their moments, they are strong-willed, but overall, for Reuben, it’s very rare that he’s cranky. He’s always a happy-go-lucky child and we are very fortunate.”

Ecuador rejects abortion law which targets unborn babies with disabilities

Ecuador’s National Assembly has rejected an extreme bill which would have legalised abortion in cases where an unborn baby has a disability, such as cleft palate or lip.

On Tuesday, the proposal which discriminates against unborn babies with disabilities fell five votes short of the 70 required for its approval, with 59 assembly members voting against the bill and six refraining.

Had it been approved, the votes would have modified 45 articles of the nation’s penal code and created six provisions to allow abortion in cases where the baby is disabled and in cases where he or she was conceived through rape. 

Ecuador’s current abortion laws have been in place since 1938 and allows abortion under exceptional circumstances, such as there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman and after the rape of a woman with a mental disability.

According to official data, the current law protects over 500 unborn babies per year from abortion because they were prenatally diagnosed as having a disability.

There were scenes of anger on the streets of Quito, as dozens of abortion activists clashed with police outside the assembly’s building after lawmakers voted in favour of protecting life.

The last time the country debated changing the abortion law in 2013, the assembly voted against it.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said:

“Ecuadorian lawmakers continue to recognise that life is precious. The reality is that every successful abortion means that a human life has been ended. By voting to protect life, the Ecuadorian Assembly has saved thousands of unborn babies, and potentially more, from having their lives prematurely ended each year.”

“Disabled babies should not be discriminated against through abortion as they are in Britain, where abortion is permitted up to birth if an unborn baby has a disability. Politicians in Ecuador are right to recognise that disabled babies’ lives are just as important and valuable as everybody else’s.”

(Image credit: Adobe Stock - File #117779648)

Over 1,200 march in Switzerland to celebrate life of children with Down syndrome

Over 1,200 people joined the Swiss ‘March For Life’ 2019 to proclaim the right to life of unborn babies.

This year, pro-life campaigners celebrated its 10th anniversary by highlighting the value of children who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome and other special needs.

However, the peaceful event has been marred by repeated violence from abortion activists.

According to Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, police had to briefly detain 175 individuals and arrest at least one on charges of violence and threats against authorities. Protesters also set fire to containers and then attacked some of the firefighters who came to extinguish the flames.

As a result of the violence, authorities had to temporarily stop the March for Life and re-route it before it could continue.

The march concluded at Zurich’s Turbinen Square, with music and representatives sharing testimonies of the value of those with Down syndrome. 

Pro-life campaigners have held, or tried to hold, a pro-life march in September every year in Switzerland for the last 10 years. In 2017, pro-life leaders were forced to cancel the march because of threats of violence, according to Human Life International.

And in 2016, a strong police cordon had to protect the event from 100 radicals who launched smoke flares and condoms at the events participants. In the weeks prior, the buildings of organisations supporting the march were attacked with paint.

Switzerland permits abortion throughout the first 12 weeks of gestation, under certain conditions.

However, abortion is also legal beyond the 12-week limit, if is claimed the pregnant woman’s physical or psychological health is in danger. In 2018, 528 abortions out of a total of 10,457 were carried out in this context.

As in England and Wales, over 90% of babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in Switzerland. The figure in similar in France, Belgium and Italy, and has reached almost 100% in Iceland for babies prenatally diagnosed with Downs syndrome.

Lord Shinkwin recently used these statistics to highlight that the UK imposing abortion on Northern Ireland would be telling people with disabilities that they are “better off dead.”

The Lord highlighted the disparity in the rate of Down syndrome based abortions where in England and Wales, compared to Northern Ireland where pro-life laws currently mean unborn children with disabilities are equally respected in law.

“[In Northern Ireland] 52 children with Down’s syndrome were born in 2016, in the same year only one child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.”

“Is that not a cause for celebration? Is it not to Northern Ireland’s immense credit that disability equality is actually respected ​there?”

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said:

“Switzerland along with England and Wales abort 90% of unborn babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Northern Ireland currently has a very different approach where disability-selective abortion is illegal, therefore creating a culture which accepts and supports people with disabilities rather than eliminating them.”

“This is reflected directly in recent official figures showing that almost 100% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland are born. This greatly contrasts with the 90% termination rate for Down’s syndrome from other parts of the UK.”

(Image credit: Marsch fürs Läbe: Switzerland March for Life 2019)

PM will leave ‘legacy of discrimination and death’ if disability abortion forced on Northern Ireland

Lord Shinkwin has said Theresa May will leave a “legacy of discrimination and death”  if disability abortion is forced on Northern Ireland. He also said the abortion amendment suggests people diagnosed with a disability before birth “would only be considered good enough for the incinerator.”

In the final debate in the House of Lords over extreme abortion amendments added to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, Lord Kevin Shinkwin attacked the abortion amendment, citing the damage it will do to people with disabilities and the legacy the outgoing Prime Minister will leave behind.

Lord Shinkwin, who himself has a disability, said:

“I am good enough to sit in your Lordships’ House, but this Bill suggests that someone diagnosed before birth with a disability such as mine in Northern Ireland would only be considered good enough for the incinerator.”

“Because that is the brutal message of this Bill: if you are diagnosed with a disability before birth in Northern Ireland, you will not just be worth less than a non-disabled human being; you will be worthless—you would be better off dead. What a dreadful message for this House to send the people of Northern Ireland, without even having consulted them in advance.”

Lord Shinkwin went on to read out part of a letter from more than 700 people with Down’s syndrome and their families addressed to the Prime Minister. The letter read:

“Theresa May, do you really want to look back at your time in Parliament and see one of your final acts being to introduce a change in the law that would be discriminating against our community and likely lead to many more babies with Down’s syndrome being aborted in a time of equality?”

In England and Wales, 90% of human beings diagnosed before ​birth with Down’s syndrome are aborted. In the last 10 years there as been a 42% increase in abortion of human beings with Down’s syndrome.

“If human beings diagnosed before birth with disabilities such as mine were wild animals, they would be given endangered species status and protected by law.”

“But we are only disabled human beings, so instead we face gradual extinction. That is what this Bill imposes on Northern Ireland, without consultation.”

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Full text of Lord Shinkwin’s speech

Lord Shinkwin

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 16 and 16A. We have already heard how understandably upset the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland are at not having been consulted about our imposing massive changes on them on such hugely sensitive issues. But what we have not heard are the views of disabled people in Northern Ireland. For the simple fact is that, if the Bill becomes law, human beings in Northern Ireland with conditions like mine will suffer the death penalty for the crime of being diagnosed with a disability before birth.

I asked my noble friend the Minister several questions in Committee on Monday; he answered not one of them, so I will have another try. First, can he tell me what consultation has been carried out of people with Down’s syndrome or their families in Northern Ireland? The Prime Minister prides herself on the Government’s professed commitment to equality, so perhaps my noble friend the Minister could tell the House what effort the Government have made to establish how people with Down’s syndrome and their families in Northern Ireland feel about the prospect of human beings with Down’s syndrome being aborted and denied their equal right to exist? I would be very happy to give way if my noble friend would care to answer.

Lord Duncan of Springbank

Absolutely. This remains, at present, a fully devolved matter, and that consultation would be undertaken by the devolved entity. At the present time there is no devolved entity, and that consultation has not been undertaken by those MLAs or by the restored Executive; it is not there. We have been able to move this matter forward only since the instruction of the other place only a short time ago.

Lord Shinkwin

I thank my noble friend for his answer. In that case, I hope very much that he will accept Amendments 16 and 16A, since he has just emphasised his commitment to consultation.

Lord Duncan of Springbank

I would not normally stand up at this point, but it is important to note that the consultation envisaged in the early amendments, which have already passed, would have that full consultation because disabled people in Northern Ireland are a protected group.

Lord Shinkwin

I wonder whether my noble friend could possibly help me with this question. Could he tell me why—

Baroness Smith of Basildon

May I suggest that if the noble Lord wants the Minister to answer questions, he makes his speech and the Minister answers at the end? That would be a courtesy to the House, and more helpful.

Lord Shinkwin

The question is actually directly related to the House, so if I may I will continue.

I wonder if my noble friend, or indeed anyone in the House, could tell me why—I can quite understand why the noble Baroness would perhaps not like me to ask this question—as someone who was born with a disability, I am good enough to sit in your Lordships’ House, but this Bill suggests that someone diagnosed before birth with a disability such as mine in Northern Ireland would only be considered good enough for the incinerator. Because that is the brutal message of this Bill: if you are diagnosed with a disability before birth in Northern Ireland, you will not just be worth less than a non-disabled human being; you will be worthless—you would be better off dead. What a dreadful message for this House to send the people of Northern Ireland, without even having consulted them in advance.

As a disabled person, I am used to people feeling sorry for me, but today it is I who feel sorry for my party. What a desperately sad position this Bill puts my party in. Not only does it make a mockery of any pretence at government neutrality on a matter of conscience; it also enshrines inequality in law for Northern Ireland—and all this without consulting the people of Northern Ireland or their MLAs. How ironic that this is happening just before we celebrate a quarter of a century since my party, the Conservative Party, introduced the Disability Discrimination Act, which championed disability equality.

Perhaps saddest of all is the legacy the Prime Minister leaves if this Bill becomes law—a legacy of discrimination and death. Instead of ending burning injustices, if this Bill becomes law she will be leaving office after the creation of one of the biggest burning injustices imaginable.

Earlier this evening, my noble friend the Minister read out part of a letter to the Prime Minister concerning the amendments on same-sex marriage. I will do the same, only mine is a letter to the Prime Minister from more than 500 people with Down’s syndrome and their families. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister has it in his briefing pack—perhaps not. This is what they say:

“Theresa May, do you really want to look back at your time in Parliament and see one of your final acts being to introduce a change in the law that would be discriminating against our community and likely lead to many more babies with Down’s syndrome being aborted in a time of equality”.

How do they know the likely death toll for Down’s syndrome diagnosis? They know because in England and Wales, 90% of human beings diagnosed before ​birth with Down’s syndrome are already aborted. Indeed, while the last 10 years have seen amazing advances in medicine and technology, they have also seen a 42% increase in abortion of human beings with Down’s syndrome.

So, the writing is on the wall. If human beings diagnosed before birth with disabilities such as mine were wild animals, they would be given endangered species status and protected by law. But we are only disabled human beings, so instead we face gradual extinction. That is what this Bill imposes on Northern Ireland, without consultation.

I close with two questions for my noble friend. He is rightly respected as a leading advocate of LGBT rights and I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, on her recent marriage and to wish her and her wife every happiness. Love is love. It is a wonderful thing, as is the personal and societal security, stability and happiness that flow from it. My point is this: I would never presume to invalidate anyone’s love for another human being, including by denying them the right to get married. But why, then, do my noble friend and the Government use this Bill to invalidate the most fundamental right of all: every human being’s equal right to exist? For that, ultimately, is what this Bill does, and without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland or their MLAs.

My last question is this. Recent reports in the media suggest that the day is fast approaching when a predisposition to same-sex attraction can be established before birth. Yet there will be nothing to prevent abortions on that basis, although another reason would presumably be given. Would my noble friend stand at the Dispatch Box and defend the right for people to make such a choice, or would he stand with me and say that such discrimination would be unacceptable and wrong? If, as I hope, he would join me in opposing such discrimination, how can he possibly defend such discrimination against human beings whose only crime is to be diagnosed with a disability before birth?

It is no less unacceptable and wrong for us to impose such inequality on the people of Northern Ireland without their consent. It is vital that, at the very least, that consent is secured by introducing a requirement that a majority of MLAs support regulations before they are laid before Parliament. I urge noble Lords to support Amendments 16 and 16A.