Poll shows majority of Sinn Fein and DUP voters reject Conservative Government’s proposed abortion framework for Northern Ireland

A new poll organised by the University of Liverpool and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council has shown that 58% of Sinn Fein 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. This is a clear rejection of the extreme proposed abortion framework that the UK Government wants to impose on the people of Northern Ireland.

The polling demonstrates that the Conservative Government has no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to go further than legally required when introducing Northern Ireland’s abortion framework.

The poll of 2,000 people showed that:

  • 58% of Sinn Fein voters supported abortion being available only where the mother’s life is in danger.
  • 54% of DUP voters supported abortion being available only where the mother’s life is in danger.
  • Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through to 24-weeks – which is in-line with what the Conservative Government has proposed introducing to Northern Ireland.

The current Conservative Government are legally required, by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, to introduce a limited abortion framework in the province.

The Government has launched a consultation on a proposed abortion framework for Northern Ireland which goes far beyond the limited changes strictly necessary for the Government to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The proposed framework drops many of the current legal safeguards provided by the Abortion Act in England and Wales. The proposals open up abortion provision to any healthcare professional, which could include pharmacists, nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, art therapists and dieticians. It also drops the requirement that two doctors sign off on an abortion.

The proposal includes virtually no legal limit on the locations on where abortions can take place, potentially allowing for the home use of both abortion pills along with abortion provision in pharmacies, GPs surgeries, school nurse clinics, mobile abortion clinics and ‘telemed’ abortions.

In practice, abortion on demand would be available to either 22 or 24 weeks under mental health grounds. Abortion without certification would be available to either 12 or 14 weeks. This would allow sex-selective abortions to be available on-demand through this period with no specific provision banning sex-selective abortion through 22/24 weeks. 

The proposal would also see abortion for disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome introduced to Northern Ireland, and possibly available right through to birth.

In England and Wales – where abortion is available up until birth if a baby has a disability – people with disabilities are unjustly and disproportionately targeted by abortion legislation.The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

Northern Ireland has a very different approach. 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 screening them out.

This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) 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 very large discriminatory change was highlighted in a speech by disabled peer Lord Shinkwin in the House of Lords when he was speaking against the proposed changes.

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

“This polling shows a clear rejection from the people of Northern Ireland for the UK Government’s plans to impose an extreme abortion framework on Northern Ireland.

“Only last month, Sinn Fein and the DUP put aside their differences which allowed the Northern Irish Executive to be restored. This was celebrated across all communities in Northern Ireland, and by the UK Government, as an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to get their voice back. 

“One issue which unites the majority of both Sinn Fein and DUP voters is the rejection of the UK Government’s proposed extreme abortion framework. If the devolution settlement of Stormont is to be respected, the cross-community view against this extreme abortion framework must be respected.

“If the UK Government pushes ahead with their extreme abortion framework proposals, they would be undermining the devolution settlement at a time when it is already fragile. 

With Stormont restored, 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. 

The law sadly requires the UK Government to introduce a new abortion framework in very limited circumstances. Going further than what they are legally bound to do demonstrates a will from the UK Government to impose their abortion-on-demand ideology on Northern Ireland, which would be surprising considering the Conservative Party claims abortion is a matter of conscience. 

To stand up for the devolution settlement; to show that they are listening to the voters of Northern Ireland; to be consistent with their party’s own position; and ultimately to protect the unborn child, I urge the Conservative Government to drop their proposed extreme abortion framework for Northern Ireland, and only implement what that they are legally bound to do.” 

Abortions for extra finger or club foot to be available up to birth in Northern Ireland

In just six weeks, abortion could be legalised up to birth in Northern Ireland for babies with an extra finger, club foot, or other surgically rectifiable conditions. 

The Conservative Government is currently considering a legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland.

The current proposals go far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland – and the limited changes strictly necessary for the Government to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

Under one of the proposed options, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life” (Section 2.3 – page 17). 

In England and Wales, wording that has appeared similarly restrictive (‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’) has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including club foot.

Club foot (also called talipes) is a condition where one or both feet points down and inwards with the sole of the foot facing backwards.

Non-surgical corrective therapy for clubfoot is successful in 98% of patients and complete correction can be achieved in as little as 16 days.

However, research conducted by Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found 157 babies with cleft lip and 205 babies with club foot were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010.

During that time, The Department of Health only recorded 14 cleft lip abortions and didn’t release any figures for club foot abortions, suggesting the number of abortions performed could be over ten times the figure being stated in official documentation each year.

The Government confirmed in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.

Despite this, the Government continues to hide and obscure figures surrounding abortion.

Just last week, the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dineage refused to release statistics on the number of abortions which took place in England and Wales over the last decade following the diagnosis of club foot, hammer toe or tarsal coalition.

The question was asked by pro-life MP Fiona Bruce whose son, Sam, was born with club foot.

Speaking about his condition in 2014, Fiona told MPs: “When mothers and fathers hear the news about a child’s diagnosis with fetal disability, it is important that they are given information about the spectrum and about their options.

“We have seen changes in neonatal intensive care, palliative care, paediatric surgery, educational care and community support. Conditions that might previously have been grounds for abortion are now treatable, and attitudes towards people with disabilities have moved on greatly…

“My son had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life. He wore a calliper in his early years and he had two operations, but now no one would ever know… It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived him of life, and he is far from alone.”

Sam is currently a DPhil (doctorate) candidate at St Cross College, Oxford having attained MPhil (masters) in Political Theory at Oxford in 2016.

In 2011, The Department of Health lost a six-year court battle to keep secret some details on abortion statistics.

Joanna Jepson, who herself was born with a jaw condition, challenged the Government after their refusal to publish in 2003, following outrage to the previous year’s figures which revealed the abortion of a baby at 28 weeks’ gestation simply for having a cleft lip.  

Recently, one mother shared how she was devastated when doctors asked if she wanted to terminate her pregnancy at 21 weeks after her unborn son was diagnosed with talipes, also known as club foot as well as kidney problems.

Taylor Barnes refused to have an abortion and gave birth to her son Presley in March last year. Since then he has undergone successful treatment for club foot and kidney problems and his mum is confident it will not hold him back.

Taylor told the Greenock Telegraph: “Steven Gerrard the Rangers manager and Liverpool legend was born with club feet so that has given me hope.

“I’m so proud of Presley and everything he has been through in these first weeks of his life.

“I can’t wait to see my baby boy kick his football and walk through the school gates.”

Cleft lip abortions to be available up to birth in Northern Ireland, mothers speak out

Mothers whose children were born with a cleft lip and palate have spoken out in horror that the proposed abortion framework that the Conservative Government is contemplating imposing on Northern Ireland will allow babies with the condition to be aborted up to birth.

Cleft lip and palate is a condition which causes a small or wide gap in the roof of the mouth, upper lip or both. It is usually easily fixed by minor surgery. 

Terri Thomas was angry and shocked when she heard that the Conservative Government’s proposed abortion framework would introduce disability-selective terminations for cleft lip and palate, up to birth, in Northern Ireland.

She told Right To Life UK: “To read that some people [in Northern Ireland] may now consider a termination simply because of a cleft lip or palate is so upsetting”.

Terri Thomas’ son, Joseph Daniel, was born with a cleft lip.

Terri said when her son, Joseph Daniel, was diagnosed with the condition she had lots of questions but never considered an abortion.

Following the birth of her son, the mother of two said: “To me he was perfect, his lip didn’t bother me in the slightest, I just felt pure love.”

Terri shared that Joseph is now almost two-years-old and has since had surgery on his lip, which has healed quickly and his scar is barely noticeable.

She added that “he is such a happy, clever and inquisitive little boy! He makes me smile every day.”

Joseph Daniel after surgery on his cleft lip.

Another mother, with a similar experience to Terri, has said she was left feeling distraught and heart-broken when she heard that the proposed change in the law would mean that unborn babies could be aborted just because they had a cleft lip and palate.

Lauren Bolt said her daughter, Lily Grace, was only diagnosed with the condition three weeks before she gave birth to her.

However, even though Lauren didn’t know what a cleft lip and palate was, she wasn’t upset or worried about the condition.

The day her daughter, Lily-Grace, was born she said: “I set eyes on the most precious little girl with a unique cleft lip that looked like a love heart.”

Lily-Grace, 2, has also had corrective surgery on her lip. Lauren said “Lily-Grace is the happiest, most beautiful little girl ever! She has so much character and I completely forget she was ever born with a cleft lip.”

Terri and Lauren both said they received great medical support from medics. The two mothers would encourage pregnant mothers, particularly in Northern Ireland, with children diagnosed with cleft lip and palate to keep their unborn babies and seek that same support.

Lily Grace’s cleft lip is barely noticeable following surgery.
What will change in Northern Ireland?

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Stormont Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland.

332 MPs in Westminister voted through an amendment to force abortion on the province, despite it remaining a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and the fact that every single MP representing Northern Ireland in Westminster voted against the amendment.

Since, then the Conservative Government has proposed a framework for abortion in Northern Ireland which goes far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland – and far beyond what is legally required by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The Government is not required by the Act to introduce abortion for cleft, or other disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, to Northern Ireland. Yet, to the dismay of mothers of cleft lip babies, the Conservatives have opted to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in their extreme proposed framework.

Under one of the proposal options being consulted on, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life” (Section 2.3 – page 17). 

In England and Wales, similar wording has in practice allowed abortions for conditions including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome right through to birth.

Without a clear provision stating otherwise, under the proposed wording in the Conservatives abortion framework it is likely that disability-selective abortion will be available up to birth.

Over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter urging the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to introduce abortion up to birth for babies with the condition in Northern Ireland.

Cleft lip and palate & Down syndrome abortion under-reported

In England and Wales, the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has accelerated in recent years.

Official figures show that the number of terminations for those with the condition has more than tripled, from 4 in 2012 to an all-time high of 15 in 2018.

Since 2011, 75 unborn babies have been aborted because they had a cleft lip and palate.

However, findings from a European register have revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported.

Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies, with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. The Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions.

Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down’s Syndrome was nearly double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.

The discovery suggests that the number of unborn babies being aborted because of a perceived disability is significantly higher than what is being reported.

The Department of Health confirmed in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.

Lord Shinkwin, who himself has a disability, heavily criticised the move citing the impact that it will have on people with disabilities.

Speaking in the House of Lords he 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.”

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

“As a society we should be empowering those with disabilities, and take pride in the positive contribution they make to our country. The Conservative Government, however, undermine this objective by indicating they plan to introduce abortions solely based on the unborn child being diagnosed with a disability up to birth in Northern Ireland. 

“To ensure that those born with cleft lip, such as Joseph and Lily-Grace, feel valued members of British society, I urge the UK Government to reverse their plans to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in Northern Ireland.” 

PM urged not to introduce disability abortion up to birth to Northern Ireland, by over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families

Over 1,600 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter urging the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to introduce abortion up to birth for babies with the condition in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of families who have signed the letter have shared photos of their children with Down’s syndrome on social media to help send a strong message to Boris Johnson.

The letter has been backed by the Don’t Screen Us Out community, a coalition of advocacy groups, who are concerned about the scope of the Northern Ireland regulations and the “devastating impact” it will have on families with Down’s syndrome children.

In England and Wales – where abortion is available up until birth if a baby has a disability – people with disabilities are unjustly and disproportionately targeted by abortion legislation.

The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

Northern Ireland currently has a very different approach. 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 (2016) 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.

The Conservative Government’s proposed framework for abortion legislation in Northern Ireland’s goes far beyond the existing law in England, Wales and Scotland and far beyond what is legally required by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The Government is not required by the Act to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome, or other disabilities such as cleft lip or club foot, to Northern Ireland. Yet, to the dismay Down’s syndrome community, the Conservatives have opted to introduce disability-selective abortion up to birth in their extreme framework.

Under one of the proposal options being consulted on, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life” (Section 2.3 – page 17). 

In England and Wales, similar wording has in practice allowed abortions for conditions including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot right through to birth.

Without a clear provision stating otherwise, under the proposed wording in the Conservatives abortion framework it is likely that disability-selective abortion will be available up to birth.

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that at least 710 late-term abortions (between 20 weeks and birth) for Down’s syndrome have taken place in England and Wales over the last 10 years (2009-2018).

The figures are likely to be much higher – a 2013 review showed 886 babies were aborted in England & Wales in 2010, just because they had Down’s syndrome. However, only 482 were reported in Department of Health records, with the underreporting confirmed in a 2014 Department of Health review.

Lord Shinkwin, an advocate for disability equality, has strongly denounced the Government’s plans to introduce disability-selective abortion to Northern Ireland.

In a debate in the House of Lords surrounding the Government’s attempt to force abortion on Northern Ireland, Lord Shinkwin said that changing the law to allow abortion on such grounds sends a message that people who are born with a disability “are better of dead.”

The letter to Boris Johnson warns him if a provision is put in place to protect babies with Down’s syndrome he will be “directly responsible for introducing a deeply discriminatory law to Northern Ireland that will allow for babies with Down’s syndrome to be chosen for abortion simply because they are found to have the condition.”

It adds: “This seems archaic in a culture where we embrace our differences and no longer treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens.

“We are asking that you ensure that selective abortion for Down’s syndrome, which will have such great consequences for our community, is not introduced to Northern Ireland.

“Boris Johnson, please do the right thing. Don’t screen us out. Ensure that abortion for Down’s syndrome is not introduced to Northern Ireland.”

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, said:

“We are calling on the Government to urgently clarify that they will not introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. All that is required is for the Government to commit to add a simple provision to the abortion framework that will clearly outline that abortion for Down’s syndrome will explicitly not be allowed.

“The Government were not required by Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland. Sadly it appears that they have decided to go further than they are required to do by the Act and have opted to introduce abortion for Down’s syndrome to Northern Ireland in their proposed legal framework.

“The proposed framework would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for congenital conditions detected pre-birth in Northern Ireland, and would reduce the numbers of our already very small community. This would have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland.”

Nicola Woods from Belfast, whose 7-year old son Daniel has Down’s syndrome, told the Belfast Telegraph:

“Daniel himself is a delight. He lives in the moment, doesn’t worry about mistakes he made last week or something difficult happening in the future. His joy in the simple things of life has radiated to all those around him.”

“People are deluded if they think this won’t have a negative impact on the Down’s syndrome community here in Northern Ireland when it is the safest place to be diagnosed with a disability.”

“We in Northern Ireland should be left to make our own decisions about abortion law.

“People are keen to advocate for equality once babies are born, but not for the unborn child with a disability. Unborn children with disabilities are most vulnerable before they are born, where screening and abortion is the norm. Northern Ireland protects them and we want it to stay that way.”