Disability and abortion

Sir, – We are a group of disabled people and disability rights advocates who strongly reject calls for a proposed ban on “selective abortions” (November 7th). We believe these calls are a blatant attempt to dilute the reproductive freedoms achieved in the recent referendum. We call for a law that is based on medical best practice and grounded in evidence. Outlawing abortion on the grounds of “disability” does not meet those standards. Most of all, we are tired of being pushed into this debate. We are tired of being used as props to further an anti-autonomy cause.

As disabled people, advocates, and parents of children with disabilities, we fully reject the inclusion of disability as a grounds for termination. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has warned states to avoid enshrining into law a specific disability exemption as such laws devalue the lives of people with disabilities. However, the committee has also clearly supported the right to access safe and legal abortion. Our laws must not promote disability rights at the expense of the human rights and well-being of women and pregnant people. We recognise that pregnant people, whether disabled or not, must be given the freedom to make informed choices.

Informed choice includes access to information. In some cases, that will include access to prenatal tests. The barriers to obtaining screening and diagnostic tests within the 12 week window has been well established. Most diagnostic tests take place after 15 or 19 weeks. We accept that prenatal screening is available privately from 9 weeks, but note that these are only indicative tests which need to be confirmed with further testing in order to give a full medical picture and signpost possible treatments and life-saving interventions. Currently early screening is not available to public patients, is expensive, and takes up to two weeks to return results. It is therefore highly unlikely that women will seek to terminate pregnancies for reasons of disability within the first 12 weeks. Given this, it makes no sense to impose any restrictions on abortion based on disability.

Suggesting that the introduction of access to abortion in Ireland will suddenly lead to a spike in termination on disability grounds ignores the substance of the legislative proposals and ignores the existence of foreign abortion care providers who have been assisting women in Ireland for decades. It is also grossly insulting to existing disabled people and their families in the assumptions such claims make about the value of their lives. Rather than attempting to restrict rights, we advocate for evidence-based, non-directive counselling and the integration of abortion care into a health system that offers real supports regardless of the care path chosen.


We believe that social and financial support to disabled people and their parents is the strongest way to deal with concerns for disability rights. 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 will only place further restrictions on the reproductive rights and freedoms of people with disabilities.

We concur with the recent joint statement by the CRPD and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women which states that: “The Committees recall that gender equality and disability rights are mutually reinforcing concepts and States parties should guarantee the human rights of all women, including women with disabilities. As such, States parties have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of women, including women with disabilities, in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. … Access to safe and legal abortion, as well as related services and information are essential aspects of women’s reproductive health and a prerequisite for safeguarding their human rights to life, health, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, non-discrimination, information, privacy, bodily integrity and freedom from torture and ill treatment.”

Finally, we ask those who are sincerely concerned about disability rights to look to the actual issues facing disabled people in this legislation – access to care on an equal basis to everyone else, provision for accessible information, self-determination, autonomy and consent. We propose that if anyone is interested in the issues surrounding abortion and disability they see the joint disability submission co-authored by groups including Disabled Women Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, CDLP, Disabled People for Choice, Amnesty and others. – Yours, etc,


Disabled Women Ireland, Bearna, Galway;


Disabled Women Ireland,



Disabled People

for Choice,


Louise Bruton, Disabled woman and disability activist, Dublin; Róisín Hackett, Student activist, Dublin; Catherine Colbert, Dundalk For Change; Sinéad Carroll, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Eleanor Walsh, Disabled woman and advocate, Dublin; Claire Hendrick, Disabled Women Ireland, Finglas, Dublin; Muireann O’Sullivan, Disability Rights Officer, NUIGSU; Siobhán Cawley, Disabled Women Ireland, Galway; Amy Hassett, Disabled Women Ireland, Co Wexford; Alannah O’Neill Murray, Disabled Women Ireland, Virginia, Co Cavan; Niamh Ní Hoireabhaird, Disabled Women Ireland, Dublin, Suzy Byrne, Disability Rights Campaigner, Dublin; Caroline McGrotty, Deaf Woman; Aoife Gray, UCD for Choice; Maria Pileidi, Blind Woman, Abortion Rights Campaign, Dublin; Gillian Kearns, Waterford; Mary T Cahill Kennedy, Dublin; Declan Meenagh, Labour Disability, Cabra, Dublin; Ferdia Mac Aonghusa, Disabled writer Dublin; Breanainn Quinn, Dundalk, Co Louth; Eléana Ní­ Mhurchú, Disabled socialist activist, Dublin; Fiona Conlon, Student and Disabled Women Ireland member, Oughterard, Co Galway; Úna Carroll UCD Students’ Union Disability Rights Campaign Coordinator; Joanne Chester, Deaf Community Together for Yes /National Deaf Women of Ireland; Micheál Kelliher, Deaf activist with Deaf Community Together for Yes and Independents4Change, Dublin; Aidan McArdle, Deaf Community for Yes; Carmel Duggan, Deaf Community Together for Yes, Dublin; Teresa Lynch, Chairperson of National Deaf Women of Ireland; Grainne Meehan, Deaf Community Together for Yes; Ronan Lowry, Deaf Community Together for Yes, Dublin West; Carly Bailey, Disabled Woman Ireland, Social Democrats Dublin South West; Róisín Power Hackett, Artist and Curator, Co Waterford; Ciara and Páidí Marrinan, Disabled Person and Carer, Greystones, Co Wicklow; Nem Kearns, Disabled Women Ireland; Orla Russell-Conway, Disabled woman, artist, campaigner for Together For Yes; Kylie Noble, Disability Rights Activist, London (formerly of Co Fermanagh); Samantha Kenny, Parent of children with disabilities, Athy, Co Kildare; Emma Burns, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, Parent of child with disabilities/doctoral researcher, Centre for Disability Law & Policy, NUI Galway; Ruaidhrí­ Mulveen, Galway; Simon Byrne, Carer, Co Louth; Natasha Lambert, Carer, Dundalk, Co Louth; Sharon McDaid, Parent of a young adult with autism and complex needs, Autism services professional and disability rights activist, Belfast.