Stormont rejects bill to restrict abortion in case of severe foetal impairment

Stormont rejects bill to restrict abortion in case of severe foetal impairment

The Northern Ireland Assembly has narrowly rejected a bill which would have restricted access to abortion in the case of several foetal impairment.

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, sponsored by DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, was defeated by 45-42 yesterday.

The bill was supported by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), along with significant numbers of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MLAs, but opposed by Sinn Féin and minor parties.

Speaking in favour of the bill, first minister Paul Givan said the bill would allow for abortion in the event of fatal foetal abnormality but not severe foetal abnormality, which he suggested included babies “with Down’s syndrome, a cleft palate or a club foot”.

However, Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA for West Belfast, said medical evidence suggested that “it is not always possible to distinguish clearly between a severe foetal impairment and a fatal foetal impairment” and changing the law would create more barriers for women to access abortion.

Matthew O’Toole, SDLP MLA for Belfast South, pointed out that “conditions such as club foot or cleft palate … are often indicators that are connected to broad fetal abnormalities that may be linked to serious abnormalities that may, in many cases, lead to stillbirth or very severe life-threatening conditions”.

Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said the bill was “a ploy, a ruse and a deliberate attempt to distract from the key issue, which is that the commissioning of services needs to happen now”.

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