Northern Assembly supports DUP motion on abortion

Arlene Foster wants vote to send message to British government of Stormont’s rejection of abortion law enacted at Westminster

The Northern Assembly has passed a DUP motion calling for the rejection of abortion law enacted at Westminster and more specifically rejecting terminations in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormality.

A Sinn Fein amendment which solely dealt with abortions in cases such as Down syndrome was defeated while the vote on the main DUP motion in the Assembly chamber on Tuesday evening was carried by 46 votes to 40.

The DUP motion welcomed the "important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down's syndrome".

While some MLAs said there was ambiguity about the DUP motion the party has acknowledged that as well as attempting to rule out abortion in cases of non-fatal disability it also was seeking to take responsibility for abortion legislation back from Westminster and make it a devolved matter for the Assembly to decide upon.


While the motion did not have the power to overrule the Westminster legislation that was passed last year and came into effect at the end of March the DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster earlier said it was important in sending a "message" to the British government about Stormont's view on the matter.

In the chamber on Tuesday Ms Foster said that the DUP had been “consistently pro-life”.

During the debate reference was made to Heidi Crowter, who has Down syndrome and who has been campaigning for a change in the law in England and Wales which allows for abortion up to full term in cases of disability.

In proposing the motion Joanne Bunting of the DUP referred to how Ms Crowter said the law was "offensive and hurtful".

Ms Bunting added that, as Ms Crowter argued, the law was clearly saying “that people with Down’s syndrome or other disabilities are of less value that people with without disabilities”.

“This is completely unacceptable in 2020,” she said.

The Sinn Féin amendment altered the DUP motion so that it read that the Assembly welcomed “the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the specific legislative provision in the abortion legislation which goes beyond fatal foetal abnormalities to include non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”.

Proposing the amendment Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin said the DUP motion was a cynical move designed to undermine general abortion regulations by stealth.

Sinn Féin opposed the DUP motion but did not support abortion in cases of non- fatal foetal disability.

“Sinn Féin do not believe that a non-fatal foetal abnormality is an appropriate criterion for an abortion,” said Ms Sheerin.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly who supported the DUP motion and rejected the Sinn Féin amendment referred to how the legislation was enacted at Westminster. "I fail to understand why a so-called republican party supports a British government in determining the right to life of unborn Irish children. It's a long way from the Proclamation of 1916 which promised to cherish all of the children of the nation equally," she said.

Clare Bailey of the Green party said MLAs were debating laws they could not change and inviting doctors to make "impossible distinctions" between "fatal and non-fatal anomalies". This, she added, would force women and girls to travel to England for abortions "just like the law never changed".

“I am stunned at this amendment from Sinn Féin…because this is what a clawback of women’s rights looks like. This is what political opportunism looks like and this is what populism looks like,” said Ms Bailey.

The Sinn Féin amendment was defeated by 52 votes to 32.

The DUP motion was then voted upon and carried by 46 votes to 40.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times