Following the introduction of Paul Givan MLA’s private member’s bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 16th February 2021, a bill which seeks to remove the diagnosis of non-fatal disability as a sole ground for accessing abortion, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has expressed support for the move.
Speaking after the first reading of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, in the Assembly, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, welcomed Mr Givan’s initiative, saying that it attempts to protect children in the womb after 12 weeks who develop conditions like club foot and cleft palate, as well as Down Syndrome. He also encouraged as many MLAs as possible to give their backing to the Bill, as he recognised that there would be support for it across most of the parties in the Assembly.
“We vigorously opposed the imposition of abortion legislation by Westminster on Northern Ireland, as we believed at the time, as we continue to maintain today, that it would create the most extreme and most liberal abortion regime anywhere in these islands, which it has done,” Dr Bruce said.
“There are many aspects of the current legislation we find morally wrong and unjustifiable and we welcome Mr Givan’s Bill, as it seeks to provide protection for children where there is a diagnosis of non-fatal disability before birth. This includes conditions like Down Syndrome.”
Dr Bruce continued, “While I speak as a Christian, there will be many who don’t share my faith, yet also recognise that Northern Ireland’s legislation goes too far. Is anyone really saying we shouldn’t take any opportunity we can to protect the lives of children with disability?”
Dr Bruce said that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland believes that providing for abortion up to full-term on the grounds of non-fatal disability, as Northern Ireland’s current legislation does, risks creating a culture where termination is considered an option ‘just in case’ quality of life is not as good as had been expected in a child without a disability.
“Our current legislation sends a profound message to society about the value that is placed on all human life, not only at birth, but also for those who live with a disability,” he said.
“As a result, there is a challenge for all of us to actively support and care for those who live with non-fatal disabilities from birth and value their contribution to society as equals, which current abortion legislation simply does not do. Supporting this Bill provides an opportunity to send a strong and very clear signal that in this part of the world people with a disability are valued.
“I have today written to all MLAs asking them to support Mr Givan’s Bill when they have the opportunity to vote on its provisions during its second reading in a few weeks’ time. In so doing, I have affirmed our belief that we are made in the image of God, and that therefore all human life has dignity and value.”
Dr Bruce concluded by saying, “I hope our elected representatives will give due consideration to this Bill. At the same time, I also hope and pray that they will see the need to provide excellent perinatal care in every part of Northern Ireland for every woman facing a pregnancy crisis. Practical, emotional and spiritual support for women and their families is absolutely essential if we are truly committed as a society to life, well-being and human dignity.”