Press release: Sinn Fein lets down abortion seekers and activists by abstaining on DUP vote to restrict abortion access in Stormont

Yesterday, the DUP’s bill aimed at restricting abortion access for families who receive a devastating diagnosis of severe foetal impairment had its second reading in Stormont. Alliance for Choice are disappointed that Sinn Féin abstained in the vote on this bill, just a day after committing to bring a motion on commissioning abortion services in line with the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 which include provision of abortion in cases of severe foetal impairment, in line with international human rights requirements. 

The DUP’s Bill is attempting to restrict abortion access under the guise of concern for disabled people. Restriting abortion access in this way breaches human rights standards, and means that families would need to travel to England for medical treatment. It is disappointing that Sinn Féin have decided to abstain on a bill which seeks to deny women in the North their human rights rather than vote against it — especially since their abstention ensures that the bill will pass. 

We know that Sinn Féin’s party policy has not been updated since 2018, despite global and local progress on the issue, not least the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee,which recommends:

That abortion on the ground of severe foetal impairment be available to facilitate reproductive choice and autonomy, States parties are obligated to ensure that women’s decisions to terminate pregnancies on this ground do not perpetuate stereotypes towards persons with disabilities. Such measures should include the provision of appropriate social and financial support for women who choose to carry such pregnancies to term.

There is clear evidence from the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 in the Republic of Ireland that restricting abortion access to fatal diagnosis only means that families are forced to travel to England to access abortion after receiving the heartbreaking news. Restrictive definitions create high legal thresholds for abortion access which act as a barrier to healthcare, meaning travel to England remains the most common route to access abortion for SFA in the whole island of Ireland.

The DUP have put forward no bills attempting to ameliorate the multiple discriminations that an ongoing lack of social supports, financial supports, community accessibility and Covid-19 has had on disabled people in NI. Only when the bill is about reproductive justice do they appear concerned about disability. Our Executive continues to fail women, pregnant people and their families.

We, however, will continue to pressure all political parties and both the Health Minister NI and the Secretary of State for NI to implement the CEDAW recommendations in full. We will also continue to support every person who calls us in distress at being abandoned by the state, and we thank all of the providers who ensure they receive the care they deserve here, in England or online.

Helen Stonehouse of Abortion Rights Campaign said, “It is unacceptable for any political party to deny human rights. Abortion access and disability rights are real issues which cannot be reduced to political point scoring. For Sinn Féin to claim a position of supporting women’s healthcare while refusing to oppose abortion restrictions is disingenuous. Abortion care must be free, safe, legal and local across the island of Ireland – pregnant people deserve to be cared for in their own communities.”

Emma Campbell of Alliance for Choice said, “We don’t expect an understanding of human rights from the DUP, but Sinn Féin should be pushing for significant increases in funding to help disabled people, as well as ensuring free safe legal and local abortion care on the whole island of Ireland. We urge Sinn Féin to review their party policy in line with the minimum human rights standards and stop criminalising people who have devastating decisions to make about a wanted pregnancy.”

Nem Kearns of Disabled Women Ireland said, “It is difficult to believe that these repeated attempts by legislators to restrict access to abortion are purely motivated by concern for disabled people’s rights when we rarely see the same legislators fighting for meaningful social and financial support for disabled people and their families. Recognising the full extent of disabled people’s rights from infancy to old age – to education, to early childhood support, to personal assistance – will make meaningful changes to the quality of disabled people’s everyday lives. Restrictions on abortion also place further restrictions on the reproductive rights and freedoms of disabled people themselves.”

Amy Merron from Ulster University Pro Choice said, “We were angered today to see MLA’s lack of trust in women and pregnant people as well as their use of stigmatising language and misinformation in the discussion of this bill. This will retraumatise women and pregnant people who have needed an abortion on the basis of severe fetal impairment. This bill is not in line with CEDAW’s recommendations and is seeking to take away the services that people in the North do not yet have full access to. This amendment is anti-disability, anti-choice and anti-human rights, abstention is not an option.

Bethany Moore of Alliance for Choice Derry said: Alliance for Choice Derry are devastated for women, already experiencing the trauma of a severe or fatal diagnosis, who will now be forced to terminate at 24 weeks.

The stigmatisation of pregnant people, in need of abortion care for severe or fatal abnormalities, only furthers shame. Instead, what they need is the commissioning of healthcare services and proper support. We stand with our clinicians who want to help women and pregnant people in these circumstances. It is firmly our belief that women are best placed to make decisions about their own reproductive lives.

Jill McManus from Project Choice QUBSU added, No woman or pregnant person should ever have to travel for safe abortion care. We are disappointed in the DUP bill at Stormont, pushing families to rush into decisions and make heartbreaking journeys, organising complex care, funerals and ashes transport from another country. Restricting access to free, safe, legal and local abortions only expands the healthcare inequalities facing the disabled community, as well as increasing the psychological harm and financial toll to women and pregnant people who are in the most vulnerable circumstances. This motion serves as a stark reminder that our fight for abortion care and reproductive justice is only beginning. 

Further Information:
The Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 introduced in March 2020 are designed to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW Report of the inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Report), this includes provision for abortion in cases of severe foetal impairment. These regulations need to be implemented in full so that no pregnant person is forced to travel to England to access basic healthcare. 

The CEDAW Report can be found here

The details of the Executive Function Act for NI can be found here