Biggest Protestant church in NI backs DUP bill on disabled abortions

The Presbyterian Church has said the current law on abortion serves to “perpetuate stereotypes” of disabled people, as it set out in detail its support for a new DUP bill.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 9:30 am
An image of a foetus at 12 weeks, from the NHS website; at that age the spine, limbs, and heartbeat are all visible

The church argues that the present rules effectively give people a wide scope to decide that a disabled child’s life is not worth living.

The comments are to be found in a submission the church sent to Stormont’s health committee last week.

It is signed by Rev Daniel Kane (convener of the Council for Public Affairs) and Rev Trevor Gribben (clerk of the General Assembly).

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The bill they are backing is the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, which it nicknames the “Givan Bill” – after DUP MLA Paul Givan, who is sponsoring it.

The bill seeks to remove “severe fetal impairment” as a ground for abortion.

The church’s submission begins by pointing out the size of its following – 217,000 members in 535 congregations (by far the biggest Protestant denomination in the Province) – and restates its credo that life begins at conception.

It says that the way the rules on abortion are written right now, “severe fetal impairment” could be stretched to cover “a range of minor conditions”.

It thus “allows for a subjective judgment to be made on the quality of life of a baby with a severe impairment and perpetuate[s] stereotypes toward persons with disabilities”.

Letting disabled foetuses be legally terminated risks fostering a “significant negative societal and cultural change in attitude towards people with disabilities”.

“This is not simply a theological or academic exercise for the church,” the clerics said.

“Many of our ministers, and others in congregations, have journeyed alongside women and families who have experienced a pregnancy crisis ... and been presented with difficult decisions. That continues as they support those who care for loved ones born with a disability.”

Up to 2019, abortion was legal in Northern Ireland, but only if the wellbeing of the mother was at risk.

That year, the Westminster government repealed the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the old law governing abortion in Northern Ireland.

Despite running a public consultation in which 79% of respondents opposed relaxing the abortion laws further, in March 2020 the Westminster government unveiled details of the new abortion regime.

> It allows terminations for any reason up to 12 weeks;

> Up to 24 weeks in case of “risk of injury to the physical or mental health” of the mother;

> And with no time limit in cases £to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl”, in cases of “severe fetal impairment”.

When it comes to defining “severe fetal impairment”, the government said it includes “a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life”.

For more on this story, click here:

Click here: Government ushers in abortion up to point of birth in Northern Ireland – despite overwhelming consultation opposition

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