Northern Ireland’s oldest man with Down’s syndrome throws support behind pro-life motion

A man believed to be Northern Ireland’s oldest person with Down’s syndrome has thrown his support behind a motion calling on MLAs to oppose abortion up to birth for those prenatally diagnosed with the condition.

George McCullagh, whose parents were told he wouldn’t survive past his teenage years, has defied the odds to celebrate his 76th birthday today.

Now, he and his family have declared their support for the pro-life motion tabled by DUP MLAs Paul Givan and Joanne Bunting.

George’s sister, Elaine, told Paul: “We love our ‘wee brother’ and he has brought us so much love and joy. He, himself, has had a great life.”

Tomorrow, the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on a motion that, if voted for, will highlight the Assembly’s opposition to the UK Government’s plans to introduce abortion on the basis of Down’s syndrome.

It states: “That this Assembly welcomes the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome.”

The motion has been tabled in response to Heidi Crowter, the 24-year-old disability campaigner, who spoke out against the proposal of the British Government to impose abortion up to birth in cases of disabilities like her own, Down’s syndrome.

Heidi wrote to Party Leaders at Stormont, asking them to take the lead and do everything they can to oppose abortion on the basis of disability up until birth.

She said: “Please do not let a law come into practice which will end lives on the basis of disability and stop people like me coming into the world.”

While the motion will not change the law if it passes, it will demonstrate to Heidi and other people with Down’s syndrome that Northern Ireland’s elected officials oppose any move to allow babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted up until birth.

This will send a very important message to MPs in Westminster that Northern Ireland does not want the extreme abortion regime imposed on them from the UK Parliament and Conservative Government.

The new regime, which also allows de facto abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks and disability abortion right up to birth, came into force as law on 31 March.

Despite 79% of consultation respondents stating opposition to changes in Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation, the UK Government went far beyond what was legally required of them when they imposed radical changes to the law governing terminations in the province.

MPs and Peers will vote on the extreme abortion regulations at some point before 19 June.

If MPs vote down the redrafted regulations, the 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.

In April, an influential House of Lords committee released a highly critical report raising significant concerns over the Government’s approach in imposing the extreme abortion regime. 

In his submission to the committee, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General said that the UK Government exceeded its powers as it radically changed abortion law in the province.

John Larkin QC said: “This is of political and legal significance and, given that the relevant judgement call is best made by a local legislature, it may be inappropriate for the provision to have been so limited in light of the changed political context.”

The Attorney General also told the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee it was “disproportionate” to require healthcare professionals in any capacity “to act contrary to their conscience” and that it “would have been possible” for Westminster to introduce broader conscience protections.

In addition, earlier this month, Northern Ireland peer Baroness Nuala O’Loan called on Northern Ireland residents to “make their voices heard” and demand the new extreme abortion regime regulations are not approved.

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

“We’d like to wish George McCullagh a very happy 76th birthday full of the love and joy he brings to others.

“We’re thankful for this motion, brought by Paul Givan and Joanne Bunting, which will finally break the silence at Stormont tomorrow after MLAs found time to debate bikes before the lives of unborn babies.

“If you live in Northern Ireland, please write to your local MLAs asking them to seek an urgent debate and vote on a resolution to this matter, distancing Northern Ireland from Whitehall’s profoundly ill-conceived abortion disability proposal.”

“If you have already emailed your MLA, please encourage more friends and family to write to their MLAs.”

Pro-life MP Carla Lockhart declares support for disability abortion challenge as High Court papers are lodged

Pro-life MP Carla Lockhart has declared her support for a legal challenge against the UK’s discriminatory abortion law which singles out babies with disabilities allowing abortion right through to birth – even for including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

The landmark case is being brought by Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman who has Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, the mother of eleven-month-old son Aidan who has the condition.

Announcing her support for Heidi and Máire, Carla Lockhart tweeted: “This is very relevant and I very much support both Maire and Heidi. All lives are precious and I would urge people to think about what Heidi said, ‘it makes me feel like I shouldn’t exist in the world’ #RepealSection9 #ItsADevolvedMatter.”

Elected in 2019, the Upper Bann DUP MP used her maiden speech in the UK Parliament’s House of Commons to defend the right to life of unborn babies and call for a culture of choosing life.

Carla’s proclamation of support comes as Heidi and Máire’s solicitor, Paul Conrathe of Sinclairs law, this week lodges papers at the High Court ahead of their legal challenge.

Carla is not alone in her support, as the legal case continues to receive international attention and capture hearts and minds around the world.

Heidi’s legal challenge has also generated widespread support from those with first-hand experience of Down’s syndrome, disability advocates and more, with over 4,200,000 people watching Heidi tell Channel 5 the current law is “deeply offensive”.

Currently, abortion is available up to birth in England, Wales and Scotland if the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot whereas if the baby does not have a condition, there is a 24-week time limit.

Furthermore, babies prenatally diagnosed with a disability can be unfairly targeted by doctors pressuring parents to undergo an abortion.

One mother, whose child is now three-years-old, disclosed how medical professionals told her they could leave her baby with Down’s syndrome to die if it was struggling after birth.

Another mum told how even at 38 weeks pregnant she was being offered an abortion. Emma Mellor, the mother of five-year-old Jamie, said: “In all honesty I think we must have been offered about 15 terminations”.

“At 38 weeks they made it really, really, really clear, that if I changed my mind on the morning of the induction to let them know, because it wasn’t too late; until the baby had started travelling down the birth canal, I could still terminate.”

Nicola Sparrow was offered an abortion at 37 weeks, after being told she would, otherwise, be induced the next morning.

Máire Lea-Wilson, who is bringing forward the legal challenge with Heidi, has revealed she was encouraged in hospital to abort her son when a scan at 34-weeks revealed he had the condition.

Recalling her experience, Máire said: “I felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby.”

Earlier this week, she told Sky News: “I have two sons and I love and value them equally and I think it seems really wrong that the law doesn’t value them equally.”

Heidi Crowter, from Coventry, who has Down’s syndrome said:

“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be “seriously handicapped”. They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped – just because I have an extra chromosome! Can you believe that?

“What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination! 

“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently said that the United Kingdom should change its abortion law to make sure that people like me aren’t singled out because of our disabilities. 

“Sadly, the Government decided to ignore their recommendations and didn’t change the law. So now, I am going to take the Government to court with other members of the Down’s syndrome community to make sure that people aren’t treated differently because of their disabilities.”

Máire said: “I have two sons and I love and value them equally and I think it just seems wrong that the law doesn’t value them equally and we want to change that.

“I love and value them equally, so I don’t see why they are not valued equally by the law.

Once it was thought the baby had Down’s syndrome, the first thing they wanted to talk about was whether we wanted to terminate the pregnancy, and I was 34 weeks pregnant, so it was quite a difficult question to get asked at a time when I was scared and vulnerable.

“It is really tough to think back on that, I find it really difficult to think that Aidan’s life isn’t seen as valuable as his older brother’s, it makes me worry as to whether he’ll be seen the same or treated the same.

“I felt like the assumption was that we would abort our baby. 

“Our case is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion. It’s about the specific instance of inequality in the law, whereby for a child without disability the legal limit is 24 weeks, but you can have an abortion right up to full term with a child that does have a disability. That just feels wrong.

“I also really worry that when he’s older if this law is still in place, how will that make him feel: that he’s not as valuable, that he doesn’t have equal worth?

“Aidan is a little ray of sunshine. I would not change him for the world.

“He’s had some challenges and done so well so we’re just really proud of him.”

‘Screening out’ babies with Down’s syndrome seen as ‘cash cow’ for Chinese firm

A Chinese biotech firm has declared “screening out” babies with Down’s syndrome is a “cash cow” funding the growth of the whole business.

The admission comes from a spokesperson for BGI Group – a Chinese genetics conglomerate whose main business is offering non-invasive prenatal tests, primarily used to diagnose Down’s syndrome. 

In a segment from an Aljazeera documentary titled Genesis 2.0, the spokesperson gestures towards a digital map of the world and says: “You can see clearly, especially for Down’s syndrome, we have nearly two million samples all over the world. This part is, what we call, BGI’s cash cow, making money to support the growth of the whole group.”

Dismissing a query over potential ethical concerns, she coldly adds: “…with the use of our technology, we could avoid the birth of birth defect, like a Down’s syndrome birth, a Down’s syndrome child, we can screen them out, we can avoid the birth of them.”

Responding to the video, parents of those with Down’s syndrome expressed shock and anger at the comments.  

One such mother commented: “She says ‘defect’, I say ‘difference’. That’s all it comes down to. And she had no answer to his questions about ethical implications.”

Another mother tweeted: “Well, we knew this inside, people try to cover it in CHOICE. But really, no. It’s profiting from discrimination. I actually feel sick.”

This isn’t the first time BGI group or it’s co-founder and Chairman, Wang Jian, has courted controversy.

In 2018, the businessman caught the media’s attention for saying in an interview it would be a “disgrace” for any of BGI Group’s 7,000 employees to have a child with a birth ‘defect’.

Wang said: “It would mean that we are fooling society and just eyeing others’ pockets.” He added that there are no known serious congenital diseases among the 1,400 infants that have been born to the company’s employees.

Wang doesn’t just want to eliminate children with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities, he also wants to promote a eugenicist mindset across the whole of China and prevent those with “a worrisome combination of genes” from having babies.

In the same interview, he said: “China has 85 million disabled [people], and 70 to 80% of these disabilities are from birth defects.

“We can really prevent this. We can do pre-marriage testing – to flag relationships in which partners carry a worrisome combination of genes – and prepregnant, prenatal.”

BGI Group’s core fertility business, BGI Genomics, generated more than half of the company’s revenue according to the company’s annual report.

The company claims it had processed over 4 million non-invasive prenatal tests globally by the end of 2018.

In its annual report, BGI group said “[translation] various product lines have been established in various fields of birth defect prevention” and expressed a desire to “expand” to prenatally diagnose for deafness and other genetic abnormalities.  

Figures published last year found the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced new non-invasive prenatal tests.

The release of the figures came shortly after the release of a report revealing that pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision.

Currently, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome identified in the womb are aborted in England, Wales and Scotland.

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

“Our current law allows babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted right through to birth. Already 90% of babies diagnosed in the womb with Down’s syndrome are aborted in Great Britain.

“The Government has previously admitted that no assessment was made of the impact the roll-out of non-invasive prenatal tests will have on the lives of people with Down’s syndrome. In an answer to a parliamentary question the Department of Health confirmed that ‘…no assessment was made of the impact of NIPT on the number of abortions, Down’s syndrome community and medical professional and society’s attitudes towards people with Down’s syndrome.’

“Now there is clear evidence the tests are leading to more babies with Down’s syndrome being aborted it’s time that the Government pulled the rollout, and stopped being a ‘cash cow’ for companies like BGI.”

“Our culture’s narrative of celebrating diversity and championing inclusion amount to nothing but empty words when as a society we develop and promote tests whose foreseeable consequence is the elimination of people with certain types of diversity.

“The fact that the birth rate of babies with Down syndrome has already fallen by 30% in hospitals where the test has been rolled out is scandalous and confirms campaigners’ fears.”

Babies with Down’s syndrome could be protected under proposed pro-life law in Poland

Poland’s parliament will consider pro-life legislation this week seeking to protect unborn babies from disability-selective abortion.

Unlike most of Europe, Poland protects unborn babies from abortion in most circumstances. Terminations are only permissible after rape or incest, if the mother’s life is at risk, or in cases of foetal abnormality – including Down’s syndrome.

The proposed legislation would remove the last provision and protect unborn babies from discriminatory disability-selective abortions.

Polling within the country has revealed there is strong support for pro-life measures in the country. A CBOS poll found that 75% of Polish people think abortion is “always wrong and can never be justified”. Meanwhile, only 7% thought there was “nothing wrong with it and could always be justified”.

Additionally, the proposed legislation comes from a Citizens’ Initiative which received support from over 830,000 Polish residents, indicating further strong support for a change in law.

Under Polish law, the parliament which formed following the October 2019 election, has a legal duty to consider any Citizens’ Initiative bills which receive over 100,000 signatures within 6 months of its formation – in this case by May 2020.

However, it is unclear how much support the ruling Law and Justice party will give the Bill despite it being submitted by one of their own MPs, Elzbieta Witek.

In 2016, the Law and Justice party initially supported a similar Citizens’ Initiative but then withdrew its support following protests from abortion activists.

Though the bill has strong support from the public, pro-life campaigners are wary that pressure from abortion activist groups pushing back aggressively to keep eugenic disability-selective abortions legal could see the Law and Justice party withdraw their support yet again.

A pro-abortion petition against the bill has signatures from 170 MPs, MEPs and senators from 24 European countries. However, only nine of the signatories are lawmakers from Poland.

President Andrzej Duda has indicated he will sign the Bill into law telling Polish publication Niedziela in a recent interview: “I believe that killing children with disabilities is simply murder. If a project opposing this issue will find itself on my desk, I will certainly sign it.”