On the 16th of February Paul Givan presented the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill to Stormont in what CARE, whose policy team in London created the Bill, called 'a crucial first step in reclaiming our life-affirming laws.'
What does the Bill aim to do?
According to CARE 'This Bill will make it illegal to abort a baby after 24 weeks on the basis of non-fatal disabilities.'
It seeks to do this by removing Regulation 7(b) of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 which says:
if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled.
It will not, however, remove Regulation 7(a) of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 which says:
the death of the fetus is likely before, during or shortly after birth
What disabilities will and will not be protected beyond 24 weeks by this Bill?
At the moment the law allows for the abortion of any child up to birth for any disability. The removal of Regulation 7(b) will, however, not provide a definitive list of disabilities that would be protected. The decision on whether a child can be murdered will ultimately be open to interpretation by 'medical professionals'.
In 2016 The Department of Justice held a consultation into changes to the law with regards to 'fatal fetal abnormality'. The consultation examined three approaches to defining ‘lethal foetal abnormality’ in law
- listing specific lethal conditions
- assessing sustainability of life
- providing no statutory definition of ‘lethal’, and allowing a clinical judgment of incompatibility with life.
It concluded that the final option was preferable and stated that “[this] option provides a clear statutory framework within which the medical professionals can be sure that the choice of a termination is within the law.”
Should a similar approach be adopted now it will be almost impossible to draw up a definitive list of conditions that will and will not be protected by this Bill post 24 weeks as it will be left to the abortionist to decide if the child would naturally die before, during or shortly after birth.
What conditions may be covered by this Bill?
Coverage of this bill has focused on four main disabilities: Down Syndrome, cleft palate, cleft lip and club foot.
CARE, on their webpage promoting this Bill state that 'it is currently legal to abort a baby with a non-fatal disability, such as Down’s syndrome, club foot or cleft palate, right up to term.'
On their webpage Right to Life UK are encouraging people to get involved in 'The campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.'
Paul Givan MLA said, “The idea that Down’s syndrome is some huge problem that should be addressed by abortion is chilling. You don’t have to look far to see the full lives those with disabilities lead; they enrich our communities and families.”
The focus on these four conditions by those who have created, proposed and support the Bill show that these are the main areas that they are seeking to protect. Indeed, this is coroberated by the fact that CARE have also supported a Bill introduced at Westminster seeking to outlaw abortion for three of these four conditions.
How many abortions occur after 24 weeks for Down Syndrome, cleft lip, cleft palate and clubfoot?
In England and Wales statistics are released showing the number of abortions happening and the grounds under which they are performed.
Ground E covers abortions carried out where the child has been diagnosed with a disability. Within these statistics there are separate figures given for abortions where the child had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, cleft lip and cleft palate.
The total number of abortions performed after 24 weeks for these conditions, as well as the total number of abortions performed, in the past four years is shown below:
cleft lip and cleft palate
Within the statistics there is no indication of numbers of children who were aborted due to having clubfoot. Rather they are bundled into a category of 15 conditions under the label of 'musculoskeletal system'. This is because abortions on these gounds are so rare that releasing specific figures would risk identifying the people involved in the abortion.
Abortions on the grounds of 'musculoskeletal system' for the past four years worth of statistics are shown below:
the musculoskeletal system
Even if it is assumed that all of the abortions performed under the 'musculoskeletal system' were for clubfoot (which simply isn't the case), the Bill proposed by Paul Givan would only have had the potential to stop an extremely small percentage of the total number of abortions, based on what CARE, Paul Givan and Right to Life UK claim this Bill is seeking to protect.
Indeed this is perhaps best represented by simply seeing the percentage of abortions that this Bill gives approval to by not attempting to prevent them from happening:
Percentage of abortions that this Bill does not stop based on what CARE are focused on protecting.
Surely this Bill will save some lives?
Sadly, no it will not.
The vast majority of abortions for Down's Syndrome, cleft palate, cleft lip and clubfoot occur before 24 weeks gestation. This is due to screening for these conditions happening long before the 24 week mark. For example, in 2019 there were 644 abortions before 24 weeks for Down's Syndrome and only 12 after 24 weeks.
The NHS currently offer screening for Down's Syndrome between 10 and 14 weeks gestation. Paul Givan's Bill leaves a 10 to 14 week window in which children diagnosed with Down's Syndrome can be killed before the 24 week cut off.
Screening for other minor imperfections occurs at an ultrasound scan between 18 and 21 weeks. Paul Givan's Bill leaves a 3 to 6 week window in which children diagnosed with minor imperfections can be killed before the 24 week cut off.
The sad reality is that, had this Bill been applied in England and Wales in the past four years, the children with minor imperfections killed after 24 weeks would simply have been killed before 24 weeks. Paul Givan's bill simply provides a cut off time for when these children can be killed and they will all be killed before that date.
What is the alternative?
Rather than attempting, and ultimately failing, to address 0.01% of all abortions through secular pragmatism we at CBR NI believe that we should take a Biblical approach to the issue and declare, as God himself did, "Thou shall not kill."
The route to this is abolition. See the video below for a full explanation on why we should reject secular pro life bills and instead demand equal protection for all human beings.