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.

House of Lords votes to force abortion on Northern Ireland

The House of Lords has voted to undermine the sovereignty of Northern Ireland and force abortion on the region later this year.

In a vote last night (17/07), members of the House of Lords voted 182 – 37 in favour of Baroness Barker’s amendment to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offence Against the Person Act (1861) (OAPA) for Northern Ireland, which would likely make abortion available up until 28 weeks gestation.

This comes just less than two weeks after an abortion amendment added to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was passed in the House of Commons. Since then, the Bill has been fast-tracked through both Houses of Parliament and set to come a final time before the House of Commons today.

There was some debate about the effects of repealing these sections of OAPA, and it remains unclear whether abortion will be available until 24 or 28 weeks in Northern Ireland.

Baroness O’Loan pointed out that due to the Infant Life Preservation Act (1929), which is not affected by this amendment, abortion would be made available up to 28 weeks.

There is a possibility that the Northern Ireland Assembly will reject these changes imposed on it by Westminster, but the Assembly has not sat since 2017.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:

“The people of Northern Ireland have thirteen weeks to stop the introduction of one of the worlds most extreme abortion regimes to the province.

“Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland are deeply angered and distressed by this action by the Westminster Parliament. The manner in which MPs from Westminster have attempted to impose abortion on a people that do not want it, and who they do not represent, is grossly disrespectful and unconstitutional. 

“This horrific abortion law can be stopped. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that Stormont reconvenes in order to protect the thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost if this extreme abortion law came into effect. 

Over just a couple of days, 19,000 people from Northern Ireland signed a letter that was delivered to Theresa May yesterday, asking her to intervene and not to allow abortion to be forced on Northern Ireland. It is the voices of those 19,000 Northern Irish people who need to be listened to now, by their own politicians, and in their own Government in Northern Ireland.  

It’s those 19,000 people, organisations and wider Northern Irish society that now need to come together as soon as possible to build a movement to ensure that Stormont is reconvened.”

Govt. forcing disability abortion on NI tells people with disabilities ‘you are better off dead’, says Peer

Lord Shinkwin accused a Government Bill which would force abortion on Northern Ireland of telling people with disabilities that they are “better off dead.”

In a debate in the House of Lords surrounding the Government’s attempt to force abortion on Northern Ireland, Lord Kevin Shinkwin asked whether the supporters of the abortion amendment had considered the message this Bill sends to people with disabilities: that they are “better off dead”.

UK politician with disability tells PM not to introduce abortion for Down's syndrome to Northern Ireland

“Today, Northern Ireland is the safest place in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with a disability. If this Bill was passed that will change overnight on 21st October.”Please sign our open letter to Theresa May asking her to not to introduce abortion for Down's syndrome to NI: https://dontscreenusout.org/theresamayopenletter/UK politician Lord Shinkwin, who has brittle bone syndrome, speaks out against the UK Government changing abortion law in Northern Ireland from Westminster. This change would introduce abortion for babies with Down’s syndrome right through to 28-weeks gestation.The most recent figures In England and Wales show that 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's syndrome are aborted. Northern Ireland has a very different approach to how it treats people with Down’s syndrome. Disability-selective abortion for Down's syndrome is illegal and there is a culture of accepting and supporting people with disabilities rather than eliminating them out. We can see this in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. They show that there were 52 children with Down's syndrome born. In the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down's syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.#dontscreenusout

Posted by Don’t Screen Us Out on Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Abortion law in England and Wales permits abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy in normal circumstances, but if the unborn baby has a disability, abortion is permitted up until the birth of the child. A number of recent incidents show mothers are being heavily pressured to have abortions when their child is diagnosed with a disability.

In Northern Ireland, however, the pro-life laws mean unborn children with disabilities are equally respected in law. The Lord highlighted the disparity in the rate of Downs Syndrome based abortions where in England and Wales, approximately 90% of all children diagnosed with Downs Syndrome in the womb are aborted.

“[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?”

Addressing the Minister he said: “How does he reconcile the [Disability Discrimination] Act’s acknowledgement of the right of disabled human beings to be equal, to contribute to society and to be respected with the message of the Bill, which is that if you are born with a disability, as I was, you are better off dead?”

Lord Shinkwin who was himself born with a disability, has long campaigned for the rights of disabled persons and objects to this Bill on the grounds of its “lethal discrimination” against people with disabilities.

Commenting on the outgoing Prime Minister’s concern that she leave a strong legacy, without “burning injustice”, Lord Shinkwin said:

“I will, therefore, take the opportunity to urge her not to create a burning injustice by allowing the abortion of human beings diagnosed before birth with conditions such as mine to be part of that message.

“If she does, no one in my party should be surprised if disabled people and their families think that the Conservative Party hates us and believes that we would be better off dead.”

The debate in the House of Lords took place as the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is being fast-tracked through both houses of Parliament in little over a week when normally legislation such as this can take several months. The Bill has been heavily criticised for refusing to follow ordinary parliamentary procedure and having no time for full parliamentary or public scrutiny.

MPs from Northern Ireland have also been particularly vocal about how this Bill undermines the devolved powers of Northern Ireland, which retains the authority to make its own abortion law independently of Westminster.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:

“Lord Shinkwin is right to emphasise the impact this will have on people with disabilities who are already heavily discriminated against in the rest of the UK, where they can be aborted up to birth, compared with normal cases where abortion is available up until 24 weeks.”

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the life of an unborn child with a disability is treated as having the same dignity and worth as every other child. If abortion is forced on Northern Ireland, it is likely that disabled children will be discriminated against in the same fashion as they are in the rest of the UK. This is not the mark of a civilised society.”

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Full text of Lord Shinkwin’s speech:

My Lords, I support Amendment 23 and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for persevering despite her sore throat and inspiring those of us who support the amendment. I support it because I believe it underlines our respect for devolution and for the people of Northern Ireland, a clear majority of whom, polling shows, as we have already heard, do not want law changes imposed on them by us here in London.

I also support it for another reason. I do not take a position on abortion per se; I do, however, take a position on disability equality. What is proposed in the Bill drives a coach and horses through disability equality. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister—indeed, whether anyone in the Government or in No. 10—has considered the message that changing the law to allow abortion on grounds of disability in Northern Ireland sends to the people of Northern Ireland, to the devoted parents and families of disabled children and, most importantly, to the disabled citizens of Northern Ireland. Today, Northern Ireland is the safest place in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with a disability. If the Bill is passed, that will change overnight on 21 October.

I invite noble Lords to consider the Bill from the perspective of someone with Down’s syndrome. In England and Wales, the latest available figures show that 90% of human beings diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Today, in Northern Ireland, disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not allowed. Instead, the culture is one of welcome and support for this disability. The latest figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland showed that while 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.

I ask my noble friend the Minister: is that not a cause for celebration? Is it not to Northern Ireland’s immense credit that disability equality is actually respected ​there? He may be aware that next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the most important social justice milestone of the 20th century for disabled people: the Disability Discrimination Act. A Conservative Government introduced it. How does he reconcile the Act’s acknowledgement of the right of disabled human beings to be equal, to contribute to society and to be respected with the message of the Bill, which is that if you are born with a disability, as I was, you are better off dead? For that is its message to disabled human beings, their families and the people of Northern Ireland.

That is why it is so sad that the party which swore to respect Northern Ireland is driving roughshod over the clearly expressed views of the majority of its people to impose lethal discrimination on grounds of disability and to treat human beings diagnosed with disability before birth as less equal. How terribly progressive, my Lords.

I wonder who has the greater learning disability here: those who seem intent on denying the equal right to exist to those such as human beings with Down’s syndrome or those, especially in my party, who appear determined to unlearn the lessons of the Disability Discrimination Act.

I was born disabled; I will die disabled. That is the hand I have been dealt. Indeed, it is the hand that most of us are likely to be dealt before our days are done. Are we seriously saying, as we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, with all the amazing advances in medicine and technology, that we are so regressive, so insecure as a species, that we cannot cope with disability?

Various commentators report that the Prime Minister wants to leave a strong legacy. I am sure I am not the only Member of your Lordships’ House who will remember her speech committing herself and her Government to ending burning injustices. I will therefore take the opportunity to urge her not to create a burning injustice by allowing the abortion of human beings diagnosed before birth with conditions such as mine to be part of that message. If she does, no one in my party should be surprised if disabled people and their families think that the Conservative Party hates us and believes that we would be better off dead.

In conclusion, there is a clear choice to be made, and not just by my party. The choice is for disability equality or inequality. I implore all noble Lords who believe in genuine equality to stand with disabled human beings in Northern Ireland and respect them, and devolution, by supporting this amendment.

15,000 from Northern Ireland sign open letter to object to Gov forcing abortion on the region

UPDATE: As of 19/07, over 19,000 residents of Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter

Baroness O’Loan has accused a Westminster attempt to force changes in the abortion law in Northern Ireland of “treat[ing] the people of Northern Ireland with contempt” in an open letter to the Prime Minister.

As of Monday over 15,000 people from Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter and objected to this anti-democratic move by Westminster. The letter demands that the Government take one of two options: either withdraw the Bill or add a clause to the Bill to address the democratic deficit within the Bill.

In a follow-up to her speech in the House of Lords, the letter to Theresa May, which is open for anyone from Northern Ireland to sign, draws attention to the constitutional impropriety of the fast-tracking of this controversial Bill.

This is the first time the Conservative Government have actively promoted abortion legislation and scrapped it’s neutral position on abortion.

In fact, due to the rushed process, according to Baroness O’Loan and apparently confirmed by the Government, that the abortion amendment does not function properly and cannot, for various technical, legal reasons, implement abortion into Northern Ireland.

“The clause which is currently in the bill does not work,” the baroness told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

However, the Government has since made clear that it is working to redraft the abortion clause so that it can force abortion onto Northern Ireland.

Lord Duncan said: “I have just met [the MPs who proposed the amendments] to discuss how best to take this forward and to ensure that [the amendments] can be delivered.”

Baroness O’Loan said that the Government are trying to force this Bill through, despite the fact that “100% of MPs representing Northern Ireland voted against the abortion amendment. It was imposed by more than 300 MPs who neither consulted nor represent the Northern Irish people.”

The radical abortion amendment was only made known on Thursday (04/07), it was only selected 37 minutes before the debate began on Tuesday (09/07), and was subsequently voted on later in the afternoon. MPs were advised before the debate that the abortion amendments were not in scope, so it came as a surprise to many when the Speaker selected them for debate.

Furthermore, the Bill failed to follow ordinary Parliamentary procedure. O’Loan said:

Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation. The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected. There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures.  It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.

The purpose of the Bill was to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland whose Assembly is currently not sitting. Baroness O’Loan, along with a number of other critics, have said that this abortion amendment substantively alters the content of the Bill which had nothing to do with abortion.

In accusing the attempt to force abortion on the region, she reminds the Prime Minister of the threat that this legislation poses to the political balance between Westminster and Stormont, saying that the move will actually harm attempts to form an Executive in Northern Ireland.

The Bill with its radical abortion amendments undermines devolved powers of Northern Ireland who have legal control over their own abortion laws. The DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, even said the amendments would “drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said: 

“It is disgraceful that the Government would not just allow this hijacked Bill to pass under their watch, but now they intend to introduce secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland.

“This is a shocking departure from the Government’s neutral position on abortion and a departure from their firmly-held position of respecting devolution.

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Full text of Baroness O’Loan’s letter

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you about the NI (Executive Functions) Bill, currently before Parliament.

Last week an amendment which seeks to change substantively the law on abortion was tabled to this Northern Ireland Bill by Members of Parliament who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. This Bill had been subject to a fast-track procedure, the constitutional propriety of which has been questioned, and the use of which has most recently been discouraged in the context of Northern Ireland, except in urgent situations,  by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords. The use of the fast-track procedure reduced even further, the  opportunity for proper scrutiny.

The amendment was then selected even though the clerks advised the Speaker that it was out of scope. Despite the fact that this devolved matter was addressed very recently by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016 when a clear majority of MLAs voted against changing the law in any way, this amendment was passed. This Bill has, therefore, been extended in a manifestly inappropriate way because basic constitutional procedures regarding selection of amendments were disregarded. 100% of the Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seats at Westminster, voted against what has become Clause 9 of the bill.  The imposition of this legislation on Northern Ireland in its current form, voted for only by MPs who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, would represent a massive democratic deficit. 

As Lord Duncan said in October last year when the previous Act was passed, “As someone who comes from part of the kingdom which has a fully functioning devolved Government, I stress again that these decisions must be taken by the devolved Administration in the north of Ireland. There is no point in pretending we can usurp democracy in that fashion, simply because devolution is not to our liking. Devolution must function even when it is not as we would like to see it, but rather, how it must be”.—[Official Report, 30/10/18; col. 1278.]

Regardless, then, of what one thinks about abortion it is a very big issue and the manner in which there has been an attempt to change abortion law in Northern Ireland this week treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt, since there is this huge democratic deficit in a situation in which sensitive negotiations are ongoing. It has the capacity to undermine the delicate political calibration between Northern Ireland and Westminster and to cause significant damage to attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.  We want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and functioning.   

Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation.  The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected.  There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures.  It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.  

This has not happened in the current bill, and Lord Duncan has been unable to certify that it is fully compliant with European Human Rights Convention obligations.  

That was not the Government’s fault BUT the Government now has a responsibility to respond.

We note that Lord Duncan has said that he intends to re-write the deficiencies in clause 9, which is not legally capable of being implemented, but if this involved placing the power to act on any basis other than the Section 26 power agreed by Parliament, this would involve the Government breaking the Sewell Convention, part of which involved an assurance to the devolved administrations that Government would not legislate on transferred matters, such as abortion, without the consent of the devolved administration. It would also make the Government complicit in the constitutional abuses  which occurred last week in the House of Commons.

We are writing to call on you to do one of two things:

Either withdraw the Bill, which as the NI Attorney General has said is in part “unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts,” and which is inherently contradictory. We accept that this would require the introduction of another Bill to achieve the legitimate purpose of the original NI (Executive Functions) Bill. It would then be necessary for the Bill to be handled in a way which is not inconsistent with the law, the constitution and the UK’s international obligations. 

Alternatively Government could support the amendment introduced by Baroness O’Loan, Lord Eames and Lord Hay, which seeks to address the total democratic deficit of the current bill by requiring that any legislation emanating from Clause 9 must be subject to a public consultation and only laid before Parliament if it has the support of a majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

We the under-signed cannot overstate the grave importance of this matter.