The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill: Consideration Stage

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 14th December 2021.

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Clause 1 (Amendment of abortion on the grounds of disability)

Debate resumed on amendment No 1, which amendment was:

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I will speak in this important debate as Sinn Féin's Assembly leader. The first thing to say is that the women of this island have waited long enough to access modern and compassionate abortion services. That is an undeniable, indisputable and appalling fact. Yet here we are today, where, instead of supporting the provision of modern, compassionate abortion services for women, the DUP and the Health Minister continue to hold up and deny that essential healthcare service to women and girls who need it.

Westminster had to legislate for abortion services in the North because of the blockages by the very people in front of us who bring this legislation today. Those very same people are attempting to roll back on any progress that was made. The DUP created this situation and took the responsibility to legislate on those important issues away from the Assembly. Across our community, the vast majority of people see that move for what it is: a deeply cynical ploy motivated by an ideology that belongs only in the past. Today, a new generation of women will not abide or accept a repeated failure of the past, particularly when it comes to their healthcare.

It is now more than a year — in fact, it is almost 20 months — since the law was changed, and here we are today, having the debate and conversation when the Health Minister has still not moved to implement those health services. He has to answer this question: why does he continue to fail women? Meanwhile, as we have this conversation, women wait for access to the care that they so badly need, sometimes in the most traumatic of circumstances. Today, I think of Sarah Ewart and Savita Halappanavar and many more women like them. Yet, the DUP continues with that plan; it continues with a strategy that is all about designing a block for abortion services, and that is absolutely, totally shameful.

We are political leaders as part of a power-sharing Executive. We have a responsibility to work together and to deliver public services for everyone — not a few, not some, not those whom we do and do not like. It is for all. More and more people can see the DUP's machinations for what they are. Let me be very clear today: the women of the North see you; the women in your communities see you; those women are all of us. Those women are your mothers, your sisters, your aunts, the women whom you work with, and the women whom you stand beside in the shops. They are the women of our community who deserve to be supported. You cannot block forever the change that women so desperately need. The demand is stronger than any barrier that you will ever put in the way.

Today, I want to take the opportunity to briefly clarify Sinn Féin's position on abortion services, because much of what has been written and reported is inaccurate and wrong. Actually, as a matter of fact, it has been deliberately misleading. Sinn Féin has an all-island policy on abortion services. We want to see the very same laws and services here as have been adopted in the South following the repeal of the eighth amendment. We want to see that implemented in the North. We want the same healthcare services that can be accessed in Dublin to be available in Belfast. There are no ifs; there are no buts; there are no maybes or sugar-coating it: that is as clear cut as it can be.

Sinn Féin's policy is not in favour of access to abortion in cases where a non-fatal fetal abnormality has been diagnosed. That is also excluded by legislation in the South.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Let me finish my point. Thanks.

Sinn Féin's policy is about enacting modern healthcare and ending the mistreatment of women. It is about compassion for women when they need it. I have listened to women who have bravely shared their personal and tragic stories. All those women have had to take those cold and lonesome journeys to England to access abortion services. I have listened to the women who were raped. I have listened to the women who knew that their baby had no chance of survival. Those journeys have left a deep emotional scar and a profound sense of abandonment and, alongside that, feelings of betrayal and distrust that will never be fully repaired.

It reflects badly on all of us that women have to make those journeys in 2021. We have to end the failure, the mistreatment and the abandonment. We have to speak with one voice and to say it loudly: women are entitled to modern, compassionate healthcare, and the Assembly needs to deliver that. That is why Sinn Féin attempted to table an amendment to the DUP Bill that would immediately commission abortion services and harmonise the law, North and South. Our amendment was not accepted, so we have submitted a motion on the commissioning of services, which we will seek to have debated in the new year. We are seeking cross-party support for that. We will also continue to work at the Executive to ensure that those services are commissioned. If that does not happen and services are not commissioned, we will oppose the continued passage of the DUP Bill because, as other Members have referred to today, we know what this Bill is about. It is 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.

This is the time to do the right thing. This is the time to ensure the commissioning of services. This is about having a rights-based society where we uphold the rights and entitlements of everyone, regardless of whether they fit our own beliefs. This is about trusting women. This is about recognising that we are best placed to make decisions about our pregnancies in conjunction with medical healthcare professionals. We have had enough. We have had enough of women being exiled abroad. We have had enough of women taking abortion pills, often on their own and without medical supervision. This is the moment to draw the line. This is the moment to stand up for healthcare for women. This is the moment to stand up for compassionate healthcare for women; for our daughters, for future generations and for all women. History will not judge kindly those who, in full knowledge of the tragic consequences, chose to fail women again. Now is the time to right the historic wrong. Let us not waste this time: there is too much at stake.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I am pleased to add my voice to those in support of this Bill. I add my thanks to our First Minister, Paul Givan, for his work on the Bill and to Christopher Stalford for continuing that work. I also echo the thanks and gratitude that were expressed by Members to Heidi Crowter and their acknowledgement of her work. What an example she has set for us. Her resilience and commitment to advocating for the rights of those with disabilities are remarkable. As a society, we should be empowering other young people like her.

This Bill is a targeted piece of draft legislation that focuses on stereotypes against disabilities. As Mr Stalford said at the Heath Committee, disability discrimination is an issue that we are dealing with today. In Northern Ireland, for the past 30 years, many have campaigned and advocated for legal protections for those with disabilities. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 placed a statutory duty on public authorities to:

"have due regard to the need to promote equality" for persons with a disability. The Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 further amended the 1995 Act to include a requirement on public authorities to promote positive attitudes towards disabled persons. The UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009. Those laws are intended to create an equal society, ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as everyone else. Are we really going to allow decades of legislative progress to be undermined by regulation 7 of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020?

I remind the Assembly that, in 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), in its report on Great Britain and Northern Ireland, stated:

"The Committee is concerned about perceptions in society that stigmatize persons with disabilities as living a life of less value than that of others and about the termination of pregnancy at any stage on the basis of fetal impairment."

The committee also recommended that GB should amend its abortion law accordingly. Regulation 7(1)(b) mirrors the same legislation that the UNCRPD rejected. How can we allow that regulation to remain?

It is clear to me that regulation 7(1)(b) of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 adds to the stigmas that exist in our society and, if unchallenged, has the potential to continue to perpetuate those outdated falsehoods about a life with disability.

The answer to poor standards of antenatal care for women is not to liberalise the law on abortion; it is to invest in specialised pathways and to support those who have received a diagnosis of fetal impairment. Screening results and advice should be given in highly supportive environments. There is also the need for the provision of psychological support for families of children with significant congenital anomalies. The view expressed by the royal college that the care system may not be able to cope with the challenges of supporting mothers and babies with complex disabilities seems to imply that it would be more convenient to not allow those with disabilities to be born at all.

Research by the Down's Syndrome Association found that women were not provided with enough information about Down's syndrome during their pregnancy. Screening for Down's syndrome has been increasingly used as a means of identifying unborn babies that can be aborted. There is evidence of a prevailing culture among clinicians that assumes that women will favour abortion. Screening results are often expressed with sadness and a lack of information on support or alternatives to abortion. That was best summed by Sara McNeill from County Antrim, a mother whose son, Tommy, was born with Down's syndrome. She stated:

"I would urge any parent faced with the decision of what to do, not to be blinded by poor, outdated preconceptions of what Down’s syndrome is. I thought our outlook seemed bleak when our doctor first shared her suspicions about our brand new baby… but now I know better."

As some Members pointed out, the current law sends the message that people with disabilities are less worthy of protection than those without disabilities. What a disappointing message to send out from the Assembly and a troubling legacy to leave. I remind anyone who suggests that that is not the message that the law sends out of my friend Hannah Wilson, a young woman with Down's syndrome from County Fermanagh. I have the privilege of calling that young woman my friend. Hannah said:

"I felt very sad when this was explained to me... The law should not treat some people differently from others... We just want to be treated like everyone else".

I know Hannah; she is a very talented young woman, and, if I may say so, she put me to shame on the dance floor at my wedding. Imagine if it was you, your son or your daughter, and consider the impact of that law. Disability is not a disease, but it presents challenges, and it is our job, as legislators, to ensure that those faced with such challenges have every opportunity to overcome them. A country's abortion laws would be totally condemned if they singled out babies on the grounds of gender or skin colour, but, because it is a disability, such as Down's syndrome, it is somehow viewed as acceptable: it is not. That is why I am honoured to take a stand against disability discrimination with Heidi, Hannah and many others. It is time that we started to see people's ability, not their disability.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP 3:00 pm, 14th December 2021

I thank the Member, my party colleague Christopher Stalford, for sponsoring the Bill through the Assembly. I also thank the now First Minister, Paul Givan, who introduced the Bill in the House. While Mr Stalford is sponsoring the Bill today, I am sure that he agrees with me that it is impossible to consider the legislation without acknowledging the contribution of Heidi Crowter and her tireless fight for equality. She is an inspiration for the Bill. During the debate, Members across the Chamber have talked a lot about people with disabilities. Heidi is a powerful voice, and she speaks from experience. She bravely took on this fight for herself and for people like her.

Following the judgement in Heidi's judicial review of the abortion law in England and Wales, she said:

"The judges might not think [the law] discriminates against me, the government might not think it discriminates against me but I am telling you that I do feel discriminated against … and the verdict doesn’t change how I and thousands in the Down’s syndrome community feel."

If you do not hear any other voice in the debate, listen to the voice of Heidi. She speaks powerfully into the Chamber today, and she says to each Member that she feels discriminated against. The law as it currently applies in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is discriminatory.

The judgement in Heidi's case makes it clear there is a remedy for that discrimination, and that remedy is legislation. The judgement states that these:

"intensely difficult issues ... are better debated in Parliament, which can take account of different interests and viewpoints, rather than in litigation."

The Bill offers the Assembly the opportunity to take account of Heidi's viewpoint and to end the discrimination against her. Although we can legislate only for this part of the UK, we can take the lead by ending discrimination here. We do not want mothers in Northern Ireland to face the same issues as mothers have faced in the rest of the UK.

A 2018 GB survey of 1,410 women who had given birth to a baby with Down's syndrome since 2000 revealed that 69% of them were offered an abortion on receiving news of a diagnosis. Some 46% of women, after advising doctors that they wished to continue with the pregnancy and give birth, were asked for a second time whether they wished to terminate their pregnancy. So much for respecting the choice of those mothers.

We should listen to the experience of mothers in Great Britain, mothers like Emma Mellor, who said:

"we were offered 15 terminations, even though we made it really clear that it wasn't an option for us, but they really seemed to push and really seemed to want us to terminate".

Emma had made her choice, yet she was constantly questioned.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I will not give way, thank you.

Listen to the words of Rachel Mewes, who said:

"I was pressured to consider [to] have a late term abortion at 7 months pregnant. I had previously stated repeatedly that I would never terminate for Down's Syndrome. I have PTSD as a result of this experience. Being forced to imagine someone killing Betsy near destroyed me".

These are stories that should never need to be told, and this legislation will stop them becoming a reality here.

It is clear that, on occasions, doctors have failed to provide balanced options to women giving birth to children with disabilities. Even the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the Society of Radiographers and the College of Radiographers acknowledge that that is the case in their joint statement on pregnancy screening.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I will not, thank you.

They state:

"Some parents whose babies have been identified as having a higher chance of Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome, and who have decided to continue with the pregnancy, have reported being asked repeatedly if they want further diagnostic tests or an abortion. They report having their decisions challenged and being pressured into changing their minds."

This legislation would stop that pressure. It would end discrimination against babies with disabilities and allow mothers the dignity of having their decision respected. There is no reason why a termination could not take place today, right up to term, on the basis of a disability. The voices of those who are campaigning for this Bill want the law to be changed. For them, the law as it stands makes them feel devalued.

I urge the Members opposite to hear the words of Heidi and others, and to give them the equality that they deserve without delay. I urge everyone in the Assembly to listen to those voices for equality and to end discrimination by supporting the Bill.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that contribution.

Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I support the opposition to clauses 1 and 2. I am against the Bill.

I am a mother of two daughters. Both have said that they want to have children some day, and Peter and I greatly look forward to the day that we become grandparents. It is the most natural thing in the world to create and sustain life, yet it is not always straightforward: just because you plan a family does not mean that it will happen that easily. I hope that my two daughters experience the absolute joy and love that motherhood brings, but, as we all know, life can also be very cruel.

We all have families. We have watched friends have difficult and complicated pregnancies, but what if something goes badly wrong? What happens if your daughter, your sister, your wife or your niece is told that her baby has a severe fetal impairment? The devastation that that news brings to the mother, her partner and their families is unbearable. The first reaction is one of total disbelief. You question the diagnosis, you seek more opinions and, of course, you seek more tests, all in the pursuit of perhaps finding that tiny glimmer of hope in the darkness.

Thank goodness that it is only a small number of women who are faced with that scenario each year. Although the number receiving such a diagnosis is small, imagine if it were your daughter. What would you want to happen to her? I would want to give my daughter space. I would want to give her time to process the information that she has received. I would want her to get a second opinion. I would want her to talk through her options with her family and friends. I would want her to have clear choices so that she could make the right decision that best suited her family circumstances, that best suited her mental well-being and that best suited her future plans. I would want her human rights to be valued and respected.

I am not just a mother, however. I am also a legislator, and I have a Bill before me today that has the potential to deny my daughter, your daughter, your wife, your sister or your friend the space, the time and the dignity to come to her own decision. The Bill would force women, likely with much-wanted pregnancies, to make a decision without having adequate time to process the new information, explore the supports that might help them choose to continue with their pregnancy and then reflect on the options available to them. The choice before us today is between whether or not we make that difficult decision even more difficult for women who receive a diagnosis of a severe condition that may be fatal. The choice is between whether or not we want to cause additional trauma to those women by forcing them to make a rushed decision to travel to England to access care without their usual support networks around them.

I do not want to be the legislator who votes, or, indeed, who abstains from voting, for a Bill that will essentially tell your daughters, your sisters and your nieces that they cannot have medical care at home and that, if they wish to terminate their pregnancy, they must book an appointment with a clinic in England, pack their case, book a flight and make the saddest journey of their life, all because the legislators in this place rolled back their rights, took away their choice and took away their access to healthcare when they needed it most. Bodily autonomy is a core human right, and every woman deserves the freedom to make the choice that is right for her.

It was the terrible story of Sarah Ewart that caused our rules preventing abortion to be examined, not just here but around the world. People looked at us and were shocked. Sarah was carrying a fetus that she knew would not survive and that doctors told her would not survive, yet our antiquated laws meant that she had to travel to England for an abortion. That added to her grief and trauma.

That made people stop and see sense — some people, at least.

The British Government recognised that we in Northern Ireland were in breach of CEDAW human rights requirements. We were in breach of internationally respected standards for the treatment of women whose human rights were being breached. Let us be absolutely clear: it is a breach of a woman's human rights to be told that she must carry to full term a fetus that will be dead on birth. Only in the late stage of the pregnancy are parents likely to be told that the fetus will not survive birth. It is exactly the situation that Sarah Ewart faced that will be repeated again and again, if the Bill passes.

Passing the Bill would also compel medical professionals to make impossible distinctions between fatal and non-fatal abnormalities. Lack of advanced diagnostic techniques can make it difficult for doctors to distinguish between severe and fatal fetal impairment. On that basis, I make a particular appeal to anyone who agrees that abortion should be available in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities to oppose the Bill.

This is where we come to the heart of the debate around the Bill. Some of those who propose or support the Bill call themselves "libertarians". They believe in free choice; yet they believe in removing choice for women in traumatic circumstances. They believe that it is right to use force — the power of the state — to intervene in the most intimate and difficult decisions that women or parents will ever take. They believe that they know better than the woman and her partner, who are living the trauma, the heartache, the horror of the situation, and they believe that it is for them to intervene in the decisions of others at this most difficult of times. Yet they call themselves "libertarians".

Ireland, North and South, has a long tradition of treating women badly. Our Churches have caused untold harm to generations of women. There have been harmful doctrines about human sexuality and a focus on treating women pregnant outside marriage cruelly and dispassionately. The treatment of babies born outside wedlock was vile, and so were the human trafficking carried out by institutions and the disregard of babies who were stillborn. The list goes on. Surely to goodness, that was then, and this is now. It is 2021. We in the House have an opportunity to respect women and value their choices.

I say this specifically to Sinn Féin: your choice to abstain from voting on the Bill secures the same outcome as the sponsor. You may dress it up and talk all you want about the provision of services. That is a distraction, and it is not what the Bill is about. As republicans, you believe in the freedom of Irish women — just not for Irish women in crisis. The Bill is where we see libertarians and republicans join together to deny women's right to choice. To those who think that the Bill is about the protection of the disabled I will let my constituent speak. A young carer, she says:

"This Bill seeks to pit vulnerable people against vulnerable people. The human rights of disabled people will never be won in the denial of others' human rights. It is because of our love as carers that we oppose this Bill, not in spite of it."

Another carer said this to me; again, I will let her speak, as she says it much better than I could:

"I am a full time carer to a close family member with profound special needs, they mean the world to me. I am also strongly pro choice. Being a carer is a 24/7, non-stop job. I am in a position where I can give my loved one the best life possible. However, many people unfortunately are not. Forcing people into this position benefits nobody."

I will not support the Bill. I said at the beginning of my speech that life can be cruel at times. The Bill is cruel and unnecessarily so. I will vote against it with every ounce of humanity and every fibre and bone in my body.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance 3:15 pm, 14th December 2021

Members will be aware that abortion is a matter of conscience for the Alliance Party, so I will speak in a personal capacity as I explain why I oppose the two clauses. I spoke at length at the Bill's Second Stage, so I do not intend to rehearse an awful lot of those arguments here. I also intend to speak at Final Stage, if, indeed, the Bill passes its Consideration Stage.

This private Member's Bill is in conflict with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 and is non-compliant with human rights obligations. In addition, it is contrary to the CEDAW report, which states at paragraph 83:

"The Committee finds that the State party is responsible for: (a) Grave violations of rights under the Convention considering that the State party’s criminal law compels women in cases of severe foetal impairment, including FFA, and victims of rape or incest to carry pregnancies to full term, thereby subjecting them to severe physical and mental anguish, constituting gender-based violence against women".

The Bill's two clauses, on which we will vote today, seek to roll back rights and the progress recommended in the CEDAW report and enshrined in law. When this place came back in January 2020, I was conscious of the progress that had occurred with the 2019 legislation. I did not join the House to roll back that progress. For far too long, certain Members of the House — I know it far too well — have denied rights and equality to different people and different communities across Northern Ireland. It is long past time that we trusted women and ensured that the rights of women and girls, provided for by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act, are upheld.

Supporting the clauses will not prevent women in Northern Ireland from obtaining abortions; instead, it will just add pressures and economic strain during what is already an incredibly difficult time in a woman's life, as she is forced to travel elsewhere away from her home to receive healthcare. Nobody should have to go through that trauma. I trust women. I stand opposed to both clauses, and I encourage others to do likewise.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I too oppose clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill. It is really interesting to note that the Bill makes no mention of disability, despite what we have heard. Severe fetal impairment is a separate issue, but, sure, why let fact get in the way of good moral legislation? My party cannot and will not support either the clauses or the intent of the Bill, and I will outline the reasons why, because MLAs need to be clear in their understanding of what they are being asked to vote on today.

I have listened to so much debate that completely misses the reality of the Bill and simply regurgitates deflection tactics. If that was not the intention of the Members who spoke, I despair at the level of knowledge displayed today about the Bill, particularly when some of those Members are still willing to vote the Bill through regardless. Anyone willing to do that today is an absolute danger to women and their rights. I want Members to be sure about what the impact will be on women in Northern Ireland if they agree to the clauses today. That includes the Bill sponsor, Mr Stalford, who came up to me during the debate and asked whether I knew what Sinn Féin was doing after Michelle O'Neill left the Chamber. The fact that he is wiling to come and do that makes me even more convinced that he is playing political games with the Bill, and that is not OK.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

No, I will not.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

No, you will not. OK.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

You will have plenty of time to come back.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Women in Northern Ireland have never been afforded their rights by this institution. When abortion was eventually decriminalised in 2020, it was not done by this House; ironically, of course, it was done in the absence of this House. The legislation was changed at Westminster. It was not done at Westminster because MPs had finally discovered the 50 years of discrimination that they had allowed women in Northern Ireland to endure. No, Westminster began to take that discrimination seriously only after the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women took the decision to carry out a full state 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 All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It does not carry out inquiries regularly. To date, the only other states that it has investigated include South Africa, Kazakhstan, Mali, Canada and the Philippines. Now, we join that list.

Abortion provision for women in Northern Ireland came to the attention of that committee only after global media attention was given to the issue when Marie Stopes International opened the doors of its clinic in Belfast city centre in 2012, offering non-surgical, early medical abortion services. Despite the targeted campaign of harassment and intimidation that unfolded on the streets outside the clinic, when every woman of childbearing age who entered the building was targeted — that included Dawn Purvis, the clinic director — thousands of women came for treatment. The oldest was 52, and the youngest was 13 — 13 years old. We have no idea why each of those women and girls needed to access that healthcare — nor should we, because that is a private matter and it is protected under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. They paid for that private treatment, because the Assembly refused access to services free at the point of need. Allowing the clause and the Bill to pass will bring us back to that system.

As that was happening, it became apparent to some MPs at Westminster that they needed to step up. Eventually, cross-party support at Westminster allowed for the end of the economic discrimination that women in Northern Ireland had endured, whereby those who could afford to travel to England to access private treatment did so and those who could not were forced to continue with traumatic pregnancies and give birth or put themselves at risk. Passing the clause and the Bill will ensure that we continue to do that in cases of severe fetal impairment.

We should all be familiar by now with the horrific experiences that women such as Sarah Ewart and Ashleigh Topley were forced to disclose to public media, along with intimate details of personal matters, so that we understood the implications of the legislation that we upheld. It is also worth noting that not one bed is available across this island to allow a mother and a baby to stay together in such circumstances. I hope that all Members have spoken to the women who have been discharged from maternity units and sent home, separated from their sick babies. I hope that every MLA who votes in favour of the Bill or considering anything else has heard those women when they have told us of sleeping on the floor of hospital corridors after giving birth, until their child dies or is discharged. I hope that Members have listened to them speak of the abject fear that they have when they learn that they are pregnant again and begin to go through that journey all over again. By passing the clause and the Bill, that is what Members will ensure legally happens.

After the moves from Westminster, the Women and Equalities Committee agreed that it would step up and cover the financial costs for women travelling from here to England for the compassionate and normalised healthcare that is available elsewhere.

From talking to MPs during that time, it became shockingly clear to me that the issue was not, as I had always thought, a lack of care for women in Northern Ireland. MPs had not stepped up and addressed the wrongs that we had suffered, but something very different was keeping them at bay. Many MPs told me at that time that, when they tried to raise the issue, they were very often told not to interfere in Northern Ireland politics and that stepping into the abortion debate would threaten our institutions and the very peace process itself. So, they backed off, believing that they were doing a good thing. Now that that lie has also been exposed, I, for one, am very glad of every intervention to date, and I thank them for it. Who knew the extent and the power of women's reproductive justice?

Westminster finally did step up and change the law by passing the legislation that was brought by Stella Creasy MP to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, but the clauses in the Bill roll back on that UK legislation. Supporting the Bill today will roll back on the hard-fought progress that women across this island have had to fight for. They are watching today to see who is content to continue exporting healthcare and who is content to continue shaming women. We know that neither the Bill nor its clauses will stop abortion happening in any scenario. It will just allow us to go back to washing our hands of the issue and allowing others to look after our women because we will not.

On the final state inquiry that was published by CEDAW in 2018, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated:

"thousands of women and girls in Northern Ireland are subjected to grave and systematic violations of rights through being compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term."

The CEDAW vice chair stated:

"The situation in Northern Ireland constitutes violence against women that may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued:

"In its report, the Committee concludes that a restriction affecting only women from exercising reproductive choice, and resulting in women being forced to carry almost every pregnancy to full term, involves mental and physical suffering constituting violence against women. It also potentially amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of several articles of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women."

The CEDAW vice chair continued:

"Denial of abortion and criminalization of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. And it puts women in horrific situations".

The report recommended:

"that abortion on the ground of severe fetal impairment be made available to facilitate reproductive choice and autonomy, States parties are obligated to ensure that women’s decisions to terminate pregnancies on that 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."

The clause and the wider Bill, which will remove abortion provision in cases of severe fetal impairment, is being couched as concern for disability rights and discrimination, but it is very far from it. If that were the rationale, something more understandable than this clause would be offered. In fact, Disabled Women Ireland has said:

"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."

I look at the clause, and I see that it would disproportionately harm disabled women whose pregnancies are diagnosed with a fetal anomaly and would contravene the state's obligation under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To every Member claiming to vote it through on what is the pretence of disability rights, I say: you are wrong. For those who are not sure about the impact of what they are minded to support, I repeat, for clarity:

"Restrictions on abortion will only place further restrictions on the reproductive rights and freedoms of people with disabilities."

This clause, if passed, will serve to add further discriminatory barriers that disproportionately affect disabled women. We should be discussing significant increases in funding to enable disabled people, rather than broadly trying to restrict the rights of women even further. The Green Party will not support the start of such a clawback. We have always supported and will continue to support the women who have spoken out, the women who have suffered in silence, those who have worked hard to end the shame on abortion and the campaigners who have openly flouted and broken the law on abortion. If the Bill or any of its clauses passes, I will continue to support those women and stand with them, because this Bill will bring us right back to needing to take those actions.

During yesterday's debate on the COVID certification scheme, I listened to concerns that Members shared about personal and private health data that should be confidential. Let us have a wee look at women's health and confidentiality. Is reporting us to the PSNI OK? Are the constant debates in the Chamber OK? Is the need to bare our souls in public OK? To speak on TV and radio talk shows — is that OK? That is exactly what we have been forced to do, and we are sick and tired of it. Neither the contents of my womb nor those of any other womb are the business of any MLA. It needs to stop.

Yesterday, Members were so concerned that a multi-option COVID certification scheme, just to get a pint as safely as possible, created discrimination beyond the like of which they had never encountered, and they wanted it to stop, and yet, today, they will vote to remove my access to healthcare if I have a diagnosis of severe fetal impairment.

Reducing the anomaly provision to cover only fatal anomalies has been shown, as in the example of the Republic of Ireland, to limit even fatal diagnoses, owing to the unattainable certainty required. This Bill, proposed by the DUP, would compel medics to make impossible distinctions between fatal and non-fatal anomalies and would limit access to abortion healthcare. A similar provision in the Irish Republic has resulted in women and girls whose pregnancies are diagnosed with a severe and life-threatening anomaly continuing to be forced to travel overseas to access abortion. It is just as though repeal had never happened.

Women need to know that we will stand up for them today. We have that choice. There are serious concerns about what will happen next. I know that every MLA has been contacted about the Bill. Responses sent to every inbox have been clear on the impacts and implications. That is what we, as legislators, need to focus on before moral judgement and personal beliefs. The doctors, the nurses, the medics and the activists such as Alliance for Choice, the Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Informing Choices NI — I declare an interest as a board member of that organisation — and many others have set out the fact over the fiction.

I urge Members to listen to them and to pay attention. Just in case some Members have not done so, I will repeat what they said. They told us that the Bill seeks to remove abortion in cases of severe fetal impairment, thereby restricting the option of a termination beyond 24 weeks to cases of fatal, as opposed to severe, fetal impairment. Some 94% of all abortions provided in England and Wales last year, however, occurred within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions performed after 24 weeks accounted for 0·1% of the total figure. We therefore know that the Bill will not do what its proposers say that it will do.

Members have been told that it is not always possible to distinguish between a severe fetal impairment and one that could prove to be fatal. The 2016 report of the working group on fatal fetal abnormality highlighted the fact that it is impossible to create a list of fatal conditions, yet the Bill seeks to force medics to do exactly that.

The British Medical Association stated that the proposed legislation would remove the "legal clarity" for clinicians that the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 provided. As mentioned by Paula Bradshaw, that could have, according to the British Medical Association:

"a chilling effect on the ability of doctors to make clinically indicated decisions in conjunction with their patients."

Members have also been told that all pregnant women in Northern Ireland are offered a fetal anomaly scan between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy and that, as a result, the removal of the ability to access abortions for severe fetal impairments beyond 24 weeks could result in an "unintended consequence", as:

"Women may not ... avail of further diagnostic testing or seek further information and counselling, which could provide reassurance or help them make an informed choice."

We know that the Bill will simply continue exporting women's healthcare. Members were told that in the UK Government's response. Just in case Members missed that as well, I will quote:

"The Bill, if passed, would breach the human rights of women in Northern Ireland and would conflict with the primary legislation enacted by the UK Parliament by a significant majority. It would also send a very clear and damaging message to those who may need abortion that they cannot trust their devolved Assembly to safeguard their rights."

The Green Party will not support the Bill. We urge anyone who will support it to think very carefully about what they are willing to impose on women. By supporting the Bill, they will bring us back to the streets, back to exposing our souls and back to where we never should have been. I urge them to reject the Bill simply because they do not want to create laws that contravene human rights. Those are the rights of their mothers, their sisters and their daughters. The Bill is not rights-based. I urge Members to vote it down and allow us to move on finally.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 3:30 pm, 14th December 2021

As colleagues mentioned, Alliance Party policy is that start-of-life and end-of-life matters are matters of individual conscience. Therefore, I will speak in an individual capacity on this important matter.

I have spoken in the Assembly on the serious matter of abortion on a number of occasions. I have done my best to engage with a range of people with widely different views on it. In 2016, I voted in favour of legislative provision for medical termination on the grounds of fatal fetal abnormality. On that occasion, I voted in favour of the amendments that Trevor Lunn MLA and Stewart Dickson MLA tabled, which is legislative provision that the courts have since required of this jurisdiction. Since then, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive — for well-known reasons — the UK Government have legislated on the matter of abortion in Northern Ireland.

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 make provision for abortion in Northern Ireland. They make provision for the termination of a pregnancy up to 12 weeks without condition; for access to abortion services for up to 24 weeks in cases in which the continuation:

"of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman" or girl that is greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy; for termination of pregnancy with no limit in cases in which there is an immediate necessity:

"to save the life, or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health, of the pregnant woman"; and for termination without limit in cases of severe fetal impairment and fatal fetal abnormality. That is in regulation 7. On severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormality, regulation 7(1) states:

"A registered medical professional may terminate a pregnancy where two registered medical professionals are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that there is a substantial risk that the condition of the fetus is such that— (a) the death of the fetus is likely before, during or shortly after birth; or (b) if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled", which is serious physical or mental disability.

One of the main reasons that severe fetal impairment is included in the legislation is the UN CEDAW recommendations. It is therefore hard to see how the removal of severe fetal impairment will have long-term legal effect on such law.

That said, I have serious concerns about legislative provision for abortion on the grounds of severe fetal impairment, given the difficulty in defining "severe fetal impairment" in law, particularly if that definition is "serious physical or mental disability". CEDAW does not define "severe fetal impairment", and the UK Supreme Court did not rule on severe fetal impairment. The Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 define it: as I said, they define it as serious physical or mental disability. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists gives guidance on the termination of pregnancy for fetal abnormality, which it defines as a "serious handicap" that:

"would require the child to have physical or mental disability which would cause significant suffering or long-term impairment of their ability to function in society."

I have to be honest that I have a genuinely held difficulty with that language:

"long-term impairment of their ability to function in society."

That is in guidance, however, rather than in legislation.

The questions that I have wrestled with in the debate concern whether "severe fetal impairment" should be defined in law. If it is defined in law, is "serious physical or mental disability" an appropriate definition? Should it be left to guidance, and is the language that I referred to appropriate language for guidance on the matter?

The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill proposes to remove the definition of "severe fetal impairment" as a serious physical or mental disability. That is what I am required to vote on today. I am required to vote on that single issue, regardless of how we have got to that proposal. In making my decision about that, I considered the Health Committee evidence that was taken throughout the Bill's Committee Stage, in particular that given by medical professionals.

As was referenced earlier, some medical professionals pointed out that the lack of a legal definition that removes the grounds for abortion for "seriously disabled" will mean that clinicians will have to judge whether a serious fetal impairment is likely to be fatal. They argue that there is a need for a legal definition of "severe fetal impairment".

A number of such submissions made reference to a recent study that aimed to identify what congenital anomalies are responsible for perinatal death and whether they are classified as "fatal fetal abnormality" in accordance with criteria that are outlined in legislation. That study identified that less than half of the congenital abnormalities could be classified as a fatal fetal abnormality, but all were fatal. That, as the evidence states, acknowledges the complexity of such cases. Evidence that was submitted by some medical professionals expressed concern that, in the absence of a legal definition of terms such as "severe", doctors could be at risk from prosecution if they err on the wrong side of the law. Concerns were expressed that doctors would focus on interpreting the law rather than providing the best healthcare for women with a diagnosis of severe fetal impairment.

The Committee report states:

"The Committee heard concerns that some non-fatal conditions, such as Down Syndrome, as well as treatable conditions such as club foot and cleft palate, could be interpreted as SFIs under the current regulations, and therefore grounds for termination."

Medical professionals refuted that any clinician would consider conditions such as isolated cleft lip and pallet, or club foot, or cases of Down's syndrome, as grounds for abortion where there is not an associated significant structural fetal anomaly. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists stated:

"that the termination of a such a pregnancy would not happen in either NI, or in the units in GB that clinicians here liaise with."

I appreciate that statement, but I am not sure that it means that the law — the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 — does not permit it on those grounds. Therefore, I remain concerned by the definition of "severe fetal impairment" that is provided in law by the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 — physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled — and by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance that I mentioned earlier, which refers to:

"physical or mental disability which would cause significant suffering or long-term impairment of their ability to function in society."

There may be a need for a legal definition that provides for abortion on the grounds of severe fetal impairment, but I do not feel able to support a legal definition that provides for it on the grounds of serious physical or mental disability. Therefore, I feel bound to permit the passage of the Bill to Further Consideration Stage.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:45 pm, 14th December 2021

I will speak fairly briefly about the Bill today. To be clear at the very beginning, I will support the opposition to clauses 1 and 2 stand part because I oppose the Bill for many of the reasons that have been outlined persuasively by my party colleague Sinead McLaughlin and my constituency colleagues Paula Bradshaw and Clare Bailey.

Much of the terms of debate has been based on a false premise that is deeply offensive to women, couples and families who are in the extremely difficult and delicate situation of needing to consider the possibility of accessing abortion services for severe fetal impairment. It has been said, correctly, multiple times that the Bill is, on a fundamental level, legally inconsistent with the CEDAW requirements that led the UK Government to change abortion law here, and the law that the UK Government introduced, which was the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. The Human Rights Commission has already told us that the Bill as it stands is entirely incompatible with CEDAW recommendations and, by definition, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act. Why would we pass a law that we know is incompatible with CEDAW and incompatible with the aforementioned law and which could well be struck down by the courts as both illegal and a violation of human rights provisions?

On the question about definition of "disabled", my party allows a conscience vote on the issue, and I am acutely aware that people of goodwill can take different views on it. I take a very strong pro-choice position, but I am aware that people whom I respect take a different approach to the issue. I respect that, but I slightly resent some of the way that questions around the rights of the disabled in the Bill have been presented. That is not what the Bill is about. It is about restricting rights of people in very delicate situations to access abortion services. Proponents of the Bill have latched onto the fact that abortion law, as passed here and as law here, has not been delivered, because, as has been mentioned, abortion services have not been commissioned in this place despite it being the law of the land. One argument made by proponents of the Bill is that it does not define "severely disabled". There are good reasons why that is not the case. Severe abnormalities are not defined with extreme specificity in abortion regulations, so as to give flexibility to medical judgements by doctors and healthcare professionals.

Frankly, the idea that abortions for severe fetal impairment happen in a kind of flippant way, either for the people who have to access those services or for the doctors and medical professionals who have to advise and perform them is, I am afraid, wrong and does not do any justice to the medical professionals. I am not on the Health Committee, but others who are the Health Committee have noted that every one of the relevant professional medical bodies is opposed to the Bill. Part of the reason why they are opposed to it is that it flies in the face of allowing sound, rigorous, medical judgements to be made. Medicine is a changing field. New diseases —

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Will the Member agree with me that these consultations with healthcare professionals will involve women who are carrying a much wanted pregnancy, so it is a very difficult conversation that nobody wants to give or receive?

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I completely agree with that. I am always aware when I stand up and speak about this issue that, first of all, as a legislator, I am making laws for everyone not in an ideal situation, because no one who is accessing those services is, by definition, in an ideal situation. I am also conscious of the fact that I am a man, and that is relevant to how we should approach this discussion. The Member is completely right in the remarks that she made. In very many cases, these will be wanted and, indeed, longed-for pregnancies. People having to access abortion care in those circumstances are not people who wanted, in many cases, to have to access those services. I ask some of the Members opposite to reflect on that too when they talk about these issues. It is very unlikely — in fact, it is unthinkable — that people will flippantly seek those kinds of abortions unless they are in extreme circumstances.

It is also worth saying — not that it is the core point, but it is a numerical one — that this law would not stop those abortions happening, because people in Northern Ireland would still be legally allowed to access them in Britain. So it would not stop those abortions happening. It would simply mean that they could not happen in Northern Ireland. It would simply be an extension of the, in my view, unacceptable position that people here were in for decades, which is that they were able to access abortion services but had to go through the undignified, often traumatic and stressful process of travelling across the Irish Sea to access them. The people who will have to travel across the Irish Sea to access those services will be families, women and couples of all ages and backgrounds, and they will have to do so in the most difficult and extreme circumstances. I will give way to the Bill sponsor.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 4:00 pm, 14th December 2021

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. In debates and arguments around what are, obviously, very sensitive issues, language is really important, and it is really important that people who are on opposite sides of the debates and arguments treat each other with respect. In that context, does the Member think that it was appropriate for a Member of the House to tweet out a message with the hashtag "KillTheBill" last night? How is language like that, in any way, appropriate?

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I do not know the origin of that tweet. I am not going to provide commentary on what other people say; I am here to make my own remarks as an Assembly Member. I do not agree with the Bill. I disagree with it passionately. I respect the Member's right, as an MLA, to bring it and to advocate for it on the Floor of the Assembly. However, I and others, obviously, have a responsibility to argue against it and to oppose it.

As I said, there are good medical reasons why clear definitions of what is meant by "seriously disabled" are not included. That is not an evasion or a decision to make that as expansive as possible and, somehow, maximise the number of abortions that are accessed. It is because those decisions are best taken by medical professionals and the people whom they are working for, ultimately; their patients.

Earlier, one of the proponents of the Bill referred to specific instances where people who had had children with different disabilities had resented the fact that they had been offered abortion services in the first place. It is important to say that people who choose to proceed with pregnancy need to be offered much greater support and prenatal care than they receive at the minute. That is one of the frustrations about the Bill. It is hugely important that we treasure people who are born with disabilities, support parents of disabled people, and ensure that the services that are available to them are as well funded and comprehensive as possible. I am afraid that the Bill does not do that. Obviously, those were specific examples that were read out. We do not know the circumstances in which those experiences happened. It is, however, also the case that many other people have had to go through the trauma of travelling to Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, London, or wherever in Britain in order to access abortion services, not because they wanted to or it was something that they sought, but because they had to make an extremely — frankly, awful — difficult and challenging decision; one that I hope that neither I nor anyone close to me has to make. As legislators, we have to acknowledge that that is who we are legislating for.

As I said, there is a reason why the regulations and the law as it currently applies, but is not properly commissioned, in Northern Ireland is not specific and binding on clinicians. That is because there is guidance on how a medical professional should assess whether a condition is defined as a serious disability. Serious impairment has been set out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. There is a list of indicators and sets of guidance from the royal college to allow doctors and medical professionals to make that judgement and serve their patients. I want to come back to that important point, because the implication or idea that we are dealing with here that the Bill — should it become law, and I hope that it does not — will significantly reduce the number of abortions that happen is, I am afraid, wrong. I acknowledge and respect the fact that many people sincerely dislike abortion on principle.

I strongly take a different view, but it is wrong to imply or allow people to think that the Bill will significantly reduce the number of abortions because it will not. As I said before, it will place people in the most difficult pregnancy situations imaginable. There will be people who have wanted pregnancies with severe abnormalities that doctors will not be able to say are fatal with complete confidence. In many cases, although it is highly likely that the abnormalities will be fatal, that simply will not be able to be guaranteed. In such cases, people will be forced across the Irish Sea to seek services, which is a horrible situation for them to have to face.

It is worth saying that one party has talked about the need to have a degree of consistency in the provision of abortion care across Ireland. Clearly, in the North, one of the things that made the question most urgent — in my view, it was urgent before this — was the successful referendum to repeal the eighth amendment in the South. The activists — including some in the Chamber — who were at the vanguard of pushing for change in the South of Ireland were the ones who were extremely vocal, and rightly so, about the need for some level of reform, which was decades overdue, in the North. However, the truth is that the law in the South is not perfect, far from it. It is not a credible argument to say that every jot and tittle of the law in the other jurisdiction has to be followed, particularly when there is evidence that it is not working as well as it should.

Coming back to the point about definitions of severe fetal impairment, a recent study in the Republic looked at coronial inquests on still births and neonatal deaths. That information was provided by Informing Choices NI, and I am sure that many Members will have been able to access it. The study concluded:

"less than half of the anomalies" —

— those that led to stillbirths and neonatal deaths —

"could be classified as fatal fetal abnormalities, and yet all were fatal".

That is the very difficult situation that we are placing women, families and, indeed, medical professionals in. In many cases, medical professionals are not able to say that a fetal abnormality is so severe that it will definitely lead to death or stillbirth, so they end up not making that diagnosis because they simply are not able to make a definitive judgement at the time.

I note the argument that has been made consistently about the rights of disabled people in society. I passionately share the desire to improve services and rights for disabled people in society: I simply take a different view on the Bill. I strongly disagree with the idea that the Bill is fundamentally about improving access to services or the status of disabled people in this society. The CEDAW report, which we have talked much about today, urged abortion regulation to proceed:

"without perpetuating stereotypes towards persons with disabilities and ensuring appropriate and ongoing support, social and financial, for women who decide to carry such pregnancies to term."

That is critical. I do not want anything to happen today that gives the impression that I do not uphold the dignity of all disabled people. However, I deeply resent the way in which the Bill has been presented as simply being about protecting the rights of disabled people when, as has been outlined in the debate, there are many disability rights campaigners and others in the disability sector who strongly disagree with the provisions of the Bill.

There are several other provisions of the Bill that I could go through, but others have already done that. To close, I will focus on the tragic situation that existed in our laws for a very long time. We consistently exported the problem of crisis pregnancies and women who needed abortions to Britain.

That is still happening, and it will happen in the most appalling circumstances if the Bill becomes law. We have made some progress on this island. My colleague Sinead McLaughlin mentioned that Ireland has, in some ways, a shameful history around the treatment of women. That is true. It is an unavoidable truth, and more information about that has come out in recent years. That places an obligation on all of us to ensure that our laws do not perpetuate that. While respecting those who take a different view, morally or ethically, and as someone who represents a party that takes a conscience position, I will always be careful to acknowledge the fact that the most ethical people can come to a different view on the issue. It is important to stand against the Bill today, which is why I support the opposition to clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill, as others have outlined. I hope that the Bill does not proceed to Further Consideration Stage. I will conclude my remarks with that.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I find it deeply shocking that saving the life of a Down's baby can provoke such venomous opposition in the House. That is shocking almost beyond words. What is abortion? Abortion is the snuffing out of whatever life, in this case, is in the womb. Abortion law is about determining the circumstances in which life in the womb can be brought to an end. The Bill addresses, in a niche and narrow way, whether or not it is right for the state to validate death in the womb to those who are likely to be born with a significant disability. That is the nub of this debate. Does disability deserve death? That is the real question in this debate. The means of death is abortion. The place of death is what should be the safest place for any unborn: the womb. The question is that, because the child in the womb is likely to be significantly disabled, does it deserve to die? Is the state or the Assembly prepared to validate the death of those so disabled?

You can dress this up as much as you like as being about rights — I have heard no talk about the rights of the unborn — but that is the abiding question: is the Assembly, and are we as legislators, in the business of validating death being visited on a disabled living being? The Bill is necessary because our current law validates death being visited on a living being in the womb because it is disabled. We can dress it up as much as we like, but that is what it comes down to.

I have heard talk about how severe impairment is not defined. Paragraph 7 of the regulations defines it to an extent:

"if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled."

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has given a definition of severe impairment. It said:

"Severe impairments are wide-ranging and can include chromosomal anomalies, congenital anomalies and anomalies related to the nervous system", as well as combinations of those complex impairments. It can be any one of those. In medical literature, congenital impairments or anomalies are commonly identified as including the following: cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, heart conditions and, yes, cleft lip and cleft palate. Therefore, we do have an indication of the type of disability that we are invited to visit death upon. It is all of those conditions. Those who vote to stop the Bill signal for themselves and those whom they say that they represent that they are onside with visiting death upon a living being in the womb because it suffers from a disability. I trust that the House has not got to the point at which it is prepared to endorse that.

The advocacy that we have heard in the House today is beyond shocking to me. It has been fenced around with doublespeak and prevarication. Take Sinn Féin. Michelle O'Neill told us that Sinn Féin believes in an all-island policy. On 2 June 2020, its spokesperson on that occasion was Emma Sheerin, who very clearly put on the record in the House:

"Sinn Féin does not believe that a non-fatal foetal abnormality is an appropriate criterion for an abortion." — [Official Report (Hansard), 2 June 2020, Bound Volume 128, p65, col 1].

If that is so, why would there be any hesitation about the Bill? We will see whether there is any such hesitation.

I will be deliberately brief, because I have made my point, and it is very clear. Is the House on the side of visiting death because of disability — not just to disability but because of disability? That is the nub of the question.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 14th December 2021

I thank the Member for that contribution.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

This is a difficult issue for the Assembly and for every Member, including me. During my time with Alliance, it was a conscience issue, and I still see it that way. Mr Lyttle and Ms Bradshaw have clearly indicated that it is still a conscience issue. They are entitled to disagree on the matter, and I respect that. It is also a conscience issue for the SDLP. I am not sure about the Ulster Unionist Party. It certainly is not a conscience issue for the two major parties.

Back in March 2020, when we debated the introduction of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 that were imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster, I welcomed their introduction. As a long-term supporter of a woman's right to choose, my stance has always been pro-choice, and, for the record, it is an absolute disgrace and a shame on the Assembly that full abortion services have not yet been commissioned here. I join others in demanding that that situation be rectified as soon as possible. I made it clear, however, that the inclusion in the regulations of the words "severe fetal impairment" as opposed to "fatal fetal abnormality" was unacceptable.

I expressed my hope at the time that the Assembly could do something about it, which is why we are here today.

When the Bill came before the House, I was glad to see a majority across parties in support, even though it put me in an unusual place, going through a Lobby with the DUP, with which I more often disagree on social issues. I did have an assurance at that time from the now First Minister that the Bill's sole purpose was to remove the reference to "Severe fetal impairment or" and would not be used as a stepping stone to attempt to interfere further with abortion regulations as a whole. On that basis, I therefore openly supported the current Bill.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I was about to invite Mr Stalford to confirm that for me.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I am grateful to the Member for taking an intervention, because he has touched on an important issue. The reason that the Bill has two clauses and is so tightly drafted is to make that explicit and clear and to give people that assurance that that is the inference to be drawn the Bill and that that is what the Bill will deliver. My understanding is that, because the Bill is drafted so tightly, is clear in what it does and is clear in its aims, that was one of the reasons that the amendment that the deputy First Minister tabled could not be accepted for debate.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I thank Mr Stalford for that. That is reassuring.

At the time, there was considerable argument about aspects of what we were doing: first, around the principle of the Northern Ireland Assembly even trying to amend Westminster legislation; and, secondly, whether we were bound by the CEDAW agreement and regulations to which the UK is a signatory, as that would indicate that we cannot legally do what is now proposed, as that is an unacceptable infringement of women's rights.

On the first point about whether we are competent to amend Westminster legislation, I really do not know. I fancy, however, that, if and when we pass the Bill, and I think that we may well do, and it reaches the point of Royal Assent, we will find out then, if not before.

On the point about CEDAW and our United Nations obligations, there were different legal opinions. The First Minister, when he was here, highlighted some of them. Former Lord Chief Justice Kerr, the noble lord who was severely disabled himself, gave us some background as to what might have happened to him if this law had been in force. There was also medical opinion given locally here. The First Minister said that at least 200 medical practitioners supported this change to the law.

At this point, I acknowledge the briefing from Amnesty International advising us that I should not support the Bill. I have enormous respect for Amnesty International when I think of the work that Patrick Corrigan and Grainne Teggart do. I find it strange for me to be supporting the DUP on this type of subject, but it is most unusual for me to disagree with Amnesty. That is where you find yourself sometimes.

I am capable of changing my mind on issues. I have done it before. I do not think that I will do it again, but I did it on two major issues in the past. On this matter, however, and on the specific point of the Bill, I do not intend to change my mind, and I will be supporting the Bill today. Having campaigned for the rights of women to request a termination on the grounds of a fatal fetal abnormality, where there was no hope of life outside the womb, I find it frankly objectionable to be asked to support a measure that allows for termination at any point in the pregnancy owing to a non-life-threatening condition.

There is no definition of what constitutes a severe fetal impairment. Various authorities have tried to define it, but it is not clear. It appears, however, to allow for a fetus to be aborted because of Down's syndrome, among other conditions. I hear reference to cleft palate, club foot and cleft lip. I noted in Ms Bradshaw's remarks that medical opinion here was that there would have been no abortions performed here, nor would there be, on the basis of cleft palate or club foot. I do not know what the situation is in Great Britain, however. It may well be that those are considered grounds for an abortion there. I really do not know.

Most of us will know children who have to live with Down's. They are usually loving and affectionate. They are something of a handful at times, like most children, but are capable of a normal and enjoyable life. I am not prepared to sanction a measure that goes beyond what is available in the regulations and that, dare I say it, would not have been included if the Assembly had lived up to its responsibility and passed its own legislation instead of abdicating its responsibility and leaving it to Westminster to legislate.

This matter will not be finished whatever our conclusion is when we pass this measure — if we pass this measure. I think that we should do so, and I hope that the majority here will agree with me. It is necessary, and I will continue to support it.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that. I call Christopher Stalford, the sponsor of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Before I move into my remarks, I will say that I have sat through, I think, certainly 90% of the debate, and, by and large, it has been a respectful conversation amongst colleagues who have genuine differences on an issue. It has not descended into rancour or acrimony, and I think that the public will be glad of that because that is the last thing that people want to see on an issue as sensitive as this.

I will reflect on some of the contributions that have been made during the debate, the first of which was from my colleague the First Minister. He rightly pointed out that, in tabling the amendment that it did, Sinn Féin implicitly accepted the principle of the Bill. It happened to link the provisions of the Bill to the commissioning of services, and we know — I explained my view, and I am not in any way gainsaying — that the amendment was not called. However, we know that, by tabling it, there has been an implicit acceptance of the principles that are at the heart of the Bill, and I hope that that will continue into the future because I think that this is an issue that will unite the huge majority of people in this country.

Sinéad Bradley referenced how she views this through the prism of anti-discrimination, and I think that that is the prism that this measure should be viewed through. In her contribution, the deputy First Minister underscored the position and policy of her party, which had been outlined in previous debates by the Member for Mid Ulster. I am glad that that is on the record and is there for people to see.

Deborah Erskine spoke of her friend and gave a great example of the contribution that she has made to her life. Pam Cameron spoke powerfully about the voices that have been raised against disability discrimination. Those are very powerful voices and include mothers such as Emma Mellor and Rachel Mewes. Mr Allister, in his contribution, provided us with a clear and easy to understand list of the sort of conditions that are covered by the existing United Kingdom law.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring the Bill before the Assembly for its Consideration Stage. Before I set out the purpose of my amendment, I would like to make some general remarks.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the First Minister, Paul Givan, for his work on the Bill before becoming First Minister. I would also like to thank Heidi Crowter for her tireless work as an advocate for disability rights. Many here have had the privilege of meeting her, and I think that we will all agree that she is a remarkable young woman who has had, and continues to have, a powerful impact on our society. I thank the Health Committee, ably chaired by Mr Gildernew, for its work, and I also thank all those who gave evidence to that Committee. The interest in the Bill demonstrates what an important issue is at stake here.

Mr Carroll and others have indicated their opposition to clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill, so I think that it is important that people understand what precisely the Bill does and what it does not do. Given the nature of the Order Paper today, it was natural that we were going to have a wider debate, beyond purely the focus on the two clauses of the Bill, but it is important that, at this stage, before Members cast their votes, we return to the central content of the Bill.

At Committee Stage, evidence and discussion on the various issues also strayed far from the narrow focus of the two clauses and moved to much wider issues.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 4:30 pm, 14th December 2021

I thank the Member for giving way. I appreciate that, as you have outlined, it is a very narrowly defined Bill, with very little content. However, there will be far-reaching consequences if a lot of women have to travel to England to terminate their pregnancies. The reason why we expanded the debate was to give voice to the women who have made that journey and for those who will have to make it in the future.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I deliberately did not reference what the Member said in the debate, because I have no desire to cause an argument with her. I am happy to sit down again, and she can correct me if I am wrong, but the interpretation I took from what the Member said in the debate is that she is in favour of abortion up to birth, without exception. Is that inaccurate?

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you for letting me back in. I very clearly laid out the qualifications, the background, the expertise and the knowledge of those fetal medicine subspecialists who would be working with the mother, in very distressful circumstances, to guide her in her decision. Do not put words in my mouth.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Mr Stalford, just to remind you — you know this as Principal Deputy Speaker — when you allow an intervention, you should let it take its course.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Of course, and I asked a fairly straight question and I think people will be able to judge the answer for themselves.

I urge Members contributing to the debate to address what is in the Bill, rather than what they perceive to be in it. We need to be clear about what the Bill is about. It seeks to legislate for an area of disability discrimination that rests at the heart of the present abortion law. Put simply, the Bill ensures that children who have non-fatal disabilities are treated with the same dignity as those who have not. The Bill is about fairness.

Currently, regulation 7 of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations (No. 2) 2020 applies to the unborn with disability. This provision admits abortion in the very different cases where the baby has a disability which is likely to be fatal, either some time or before birth. I point out to Members that these cases are unaffected by the content of the Bill that we have just discussed.

The Bill is a very narrow in scope. Clause 1 removes regulation 7(1)(b) so that there are no grounds for an abortion on the basis that the baby has a non-fatal disability. The Bill will ensure that all children are treated fairly. That is it. That is the sum content of the Bill. Clause 2 commences the Bill, and my amendment No 1 is to that clause.

Why is the Bill needed? In a debate in June 2020, my party colleague Joanne Bunting pointed out that, in Great Britain, the equivalent section of the Abortion Act 1967, section 1(1)(d), has been interpreted to allow for abortion up to term for conditions such as Down's syndrome, cleft palate or cleft lip, and there is a real risk that a similar interpretation can be applied in Northern Ireland. Regulation 7 is the only ground where decisions are made based on a diagnosis of potential disabilities that a fetus may have and, like the legislation in GB, it allows for abortion up to birth. The law as currently drafted affords greater protection to human beings in the womb who are deemed to be able-bodied than it affords to human beings in the womb who have non-fatal disabilities such as Down's syndrome.

The current law says to mothers of babies with conditions like Down's syndrome that their child is of less value and less worthy of protection than a baby without Down's syndrome. It is clear that regulation 7(1)(b) is discriminatory. The reality is that, because of this law, people with disabilities in our society feel less valued and, in turn, it encourages our society to view people with Down's syndrome or other non-fatal disabilities as less valued: that somehow their life is less worthy of celebration and protection when compared to those who we describe as able-bodied. Putting an end to this form of discrimination is why the Bill was introduced.

When Mr Givan introduced the Bill on 15 March, he set out a compelling number of testimonies from families, who are the reason why the Bill is important. It is not about statistics and theoretical situations but about real people and real lives. I will not repeat all those testimonies, but I remind Members of Lily, Daisy, Kirsty, Clara, Aiden, Hannah and Nathan, as we debate the Bill today.

Let us for a moment consider the impact that failing to pass the Bill could have on people with disabilities. What message would the Assembly be sending to them? If we do not change the law, the message that we are sending is clear and simple to understand: people with Down's syndrome or other non-fatal disabilities are less valuable to society and, as such, deserve less protection under the law. That is the current situation, so if Members opt to maintain such a situation, it is my strongly held view that that is the message that we will be sending out. I will go further and suggest that the law is more than just discriminatory; in this day and age, it is offensive. It is offensive to people with those disabilities and their families, in particular the mums who are faced with difficult choices.

That is why I strongly believe that clause 1 should remain part of the Bill. Without clause 1, there can be no clause 2. As I said earlier, clause 2 commences the Bill. My amendment to the Bill is simply a tidying-up exercise to assure clarity on the commencement date and ensure that people are given notice of when the provisions will come into force. It is a simple housekeeping amendment. There is no craft or design to it.

As I mentioned, I am aware that an amendment was tabled in the name of the deputy First Minister, Mrs Michelle O'Neill. That amendment, which is not on the Marshalled List, sought to delay the commencement of the Bill. I hope that that means that she agrees with the principle — I think that we got that message today in the Chamber — and agrees that we need to remove that discriminatory clause. However, providing for any delay suggests to me that parties are content for those sorts of terminations to take place until a later date. I do not think that we can do that.

The current law feeds into outdated stigmas and stereotypes that exist in our society: to raise a child with a disability is a terrible burden. Those are the stereotypes that parents like Liz Crowter and Karen Wilson have been fighting to refute.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

May I give the Member an opportunity to recognise that we have a long way to go before we deliver the support, services and quality that children with additional needs need in Northern Ireland, without that being taken the wrong way?

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Absolutely. As the father of a child who has just gone through the statementing process, I totally agree with the Member about some of the inadequacies that children with additional needs face and the fact that the system lets them down. I have no hesitation in saying that we need to invest more in helping children with additional needs.

Liz Crowter and Karen Wilson are fighting to refute those negative stereotypes. Karen and Edwin Wilson, who were referenced earlier in the debate by my colleague from Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and whose daughter Hannah has Down's syndrome, describe her journey as a:

"a roller-coaster of emotions, from elation at attained milestones, to frustrations at well-meaning bureaucracy. We always believed that Hannah’s greatest hurdle in life, would be other people’s attitudes and this has proven to be correct."

In 2021, we should not be implementing laws that perpetuate negative attitudes; rather, we should be ensuring that we have legislation in place that ensures that those children receive the protection that they deserve. I hope that Members will reject the opposition to clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill.

This is our opportunity, as an Assembly, to make it clear that, in Northern Ireland in 2021, there is no place for discrimination on the grounds of disability and that people with disabilities will be afforded the same protection in the law.

As we conclude the debate, it is important that we focus on what the Bill says and what it aims to achieve, rather than debating things that it does not address. We owe it to the people who are campaigning for the law to focus on it. The debate has been respectful, as I said, and I hope that further stages are granted to the Bill and we can have further such respectful conversations. I urge the Assembly to vote in support of the Bill and in support of fairness, to end a form of disability discrimination that has no place in our law. In conclusion, I urge Members to uphold the precedent that was set by Members in June 2020 and again in the debate of March of this year and vote for the Bill.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that contribution. I call Gerry Carroll to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I will try to respond to some of the comments that were made, although I will not go through everything.

The Chair of the Committee said that the Committee had received many submissions during its consultation on the Bill and talked about the fact that full abortion services are not currently available. He said that there had been Executive approval for the provision of services by the Health Minister but that that had not been implemented. He also suggested that the lack of screening and prenatal testing came through as an issue during the Committee's consideration of the Bill. I think that the Chair also said that the Bill would export abortions to Britain and that the evidence shows that. I find it astounding that the Health Committee did not oppose the Bill for all those reasons.

The First Minister said that the Bill came from people with disabilities who were looking for support for the Bill. I say this: people with disabilities need abortions as well and want the choice. Some will choose to carry to full term, and some will choose abortion; the choice should be up to them. That is what we have heard throughout the consideration of the Bill. He also repeated the myth that a cleft lip and a club foot are the main reasons for terminations. Ms Bradshaw did a good job of dispelling that myth, and it needed to be dispelled.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Member agree that it should be put on the record again that conditions such as club foot or cleft palate, which have been used at times to sensationalise what we are debating, 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? That is why medical professionals draw attention to them. To sensationalise and talk about club foot and cleft palate as though they are reasons why people have later-term abortions is a misrepresentation; in fact, it is demeaning to the experiences of people who are in very difficult situations.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I agree with the Member. That point was well illustrated in the Committee and, as I said, by Ms Bradshaw's reference to the doctor on that point. A feigned concern has been put forward today about standing up for people with disabilities.

The First Minister acts as if there is no choice for women and purposely so. He acts like all women will decide to terminate when they receive a severe fetal diagnosis. He said that opposition to the Bill should not be about his party. The opposition is not solely because of his party, but there is hypocrisy dripping from head to toe when he says that the Bill is about people with disabilities: it is not. The Bill is damaging for all women, especially women with disabilities, and says that you cannot have an abortion here in cases of severe fetal abnormality.

Sinéad Bradley talked about discrimination and her concerns about civil rights. The point that I would make is that the Abortion Rights Campaign said to the Committee that:

"Restrictions on reproductive rights do not serve to uphold or extend the rights of disabled people."

Civil rights should apply and do apply to women and people who are pregnant.

Paula Bradshaw said that there was a vast range of reasons for opposing the Bill and that the best person to choose to terminate or not is the woman herself. She said that the old law created grave and systemic violations of human rights. I absolutely agree with that. She said that people will be forced to go private and travel for abortions, if the Bill is passed, and she indicated opposition to the Bill.

The deputy First Minister or joint First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, stated that women have waited long enough for compassionate healthcare and said that the Bill was a cynical ploy from the DUP. I think that it is cynical, to be frank, to say, "The North is next" but to allow and support or not to oppose legislation that restricts abortion. For me, it is not worth having an all-Ireland policy that tramples over women and exports them to Britain for medical decisions on healthcare. I want to see and be part of a united Ireland that does not put women on boats for basic healthcare procedures.

Deborah Erskine talked about standing against disability discrimination. I repeat: the Bill does not do that and is not about that. It erects barriers for disabled women who need access to abortions.

Pam Cameron alluded to the fact or suggested, depending on how you interpret it, that there may be or is an agenda by medical professionals to encourage abortions as an option or to force abortions onto people. That is inaccurate, and those are the health workers whom she, her party and others clapped, supported and thanked for their work throughout COVID and before that. That myth needs to be dispelled.

Sinead McLaughlin talked about the need to allow people space, time and dignity to make decisions and indicated her opposition to the Bill and to clauses 1 and 2. Obviously, she spoke against the main aims of the Bill.

Andrew Muir spoke about his opposition to the Bill in that it rolls back rights and said that that was not why he came to the Assembly.

Clare Bailey talked about CEDAW and said that people who supported the Bill were a danger to women. She said that the issue of abortion is a private matter for individuals, and I absolutely agree. She talked about the lack of services currently and about how abortion being denied or restricted was violence against women. She said that, if the Bill goes through, we will be back on the streets. Unfortunately, that will be the case, if the Bill proceeds.

Chris Lyttle outlined his serious issues with the Bill and his opposition to it.

Matthew O'Toole indicated his opposition to clauses 1 and 2. He referenced CEDAW, saying that the Bill was not compatible with human rights and that people do not decide to have an abortion or termination in a flippant way. He stated that, often, there are pregnancies that are wanted but meet unexpected complexities, obstacles and unforeseen situations.

Jim Allister indicated his support for the Bill. He asked, "What is abortion?". It is something that has been happening for thousands of years, and I think that the first recorded case was in 1550 BC in Egypt, if anybody wants to look into that.

Trevor Lunn talked about the work of human rights organisations and said that, initially, he was considering how to vote on the Bill. He stated that, ultimately, he would support the Bill and would not change his mind. I hope that that is an accurate reflection of his position.

I will make a few final comments. Throughout the debate, DUP MLAs have said that the message from the Assembly is that people with disabilities are treated as "lesser than". I reiterate what I said earlier: the Assembly does not send out a message that people with disabilities are not "lesser than" when it comes to PIP, welfare reform and its inaction on the many demands from disabled campaigners. We must not forget the disgraceful way that people with disabilities were treated during the pandemic, never mind the fact that disabled women need abortion, as has been said again and again. Does the DUP's desire to help people with disabilities stop at the need for an abortion?

It is remarkable that the Bill sponsor gets more animated about a hashtag on Twitter than the desperate and traumatic impact of restricting abortion. That tells us all that we need to know. For the record, however it happens, I hope that we kill the Bill. If it passes, it would be very dangerous for women across the North.

Clare Bailey rightly highlighted the level of myth in the Chamber throughout the debate. She spoke about the rejection of medical fact and the shameful lack of knowledge on the hard realities facing pregnant women who need abortions, especially given the gut-wrenching testimony offered by women who have experienced this. The idea put forward by one MLA that removing access to abortion would reduce pressure on women is incredible. Removing choice and options in healthcare for women is dangerous and backward. As Clare Bailey said, it causes fear. Doing so in order to protect the fetus, regardless of the consequences to the woman carrying the fetus, is cruel and unjust.

How low is the DUP's opinion of women that it believes them to be so cruel and careless that they need to be prevented from making decisions about their pregnancy?

I agree with Clare Bailey that the DUP is playing politics. It knew last year, when Sinn Féin tabled an amendment that had the same intent as this Bill, that it would be a useful way of exposing Sinn Féin. It has done that, but shame on the DUP for using political games to get one over on Sinn Féin at the expense of women. It is proof, again, of what the DUP thinks of women across the North, especially, in this case, those who are in need.

Like Mr Stalford, I was left none the wiser as to how Sinn Féin was going to vote after Michelle O'Neill's intervention, which set out over and over again that we need modern and compassionate healthcare, while implying that Sinn Féin would rather see women on boats than getting access to abortion here in the case of severe fetal abnormality. Telling women that they have to carry a pregnancy with a severe anomaly to full term against their will is state coercion. There is nothing moderate or compassionate about it, nor is there anything compassionate in Sinn Féin's wanting to extend the law from Dublin to here.

In reality, that would represent a rollback on rights. It would guarantee that women still have to travel, and it is not human rights-compliant. It might clarify Sinn Féin's position for the press, but, for those of us who knew their policy, it is a reiteration of what we are campaigning and fighting against: limitations, barriers, cruel restrictions and heartache. As Michelle O'Neill said to the DUP, we see you.

There is nothing moderate, modern or compassionate about Sinn Féin's abortion policy. Being better than the DUP on any rights issue is hardly much of a yardstick. I urge Sinn Féin MLAs to vote against the Bill. One thing that I join Michelle O'Neill in saying is that the demands of the pro-choice movement are stronger than any barriers that Stormont can erect. It has ever been that way. It is how decriminalisation was won. It was how repeal was won. It is how we will get services on the ground, and it is the only way in which women will once again get Sinn Féin and other MLAs to budge on this issue. The sooner, the better.

I will conclude my remarks there. I will oppose clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill. I invite all pro-choice MLAs to do the same.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 4:45 pm, 14th December 2021

Before I put the Question, I remind Members that the House will vote on whether clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 43; Noes 45

AYES

Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms S Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Givan, Mr Lunn

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr McAleer, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Bailey, Mr Carroll

Question accordingly negatived. Clause 1 disagreed to.

Clause 2 (Short title and commencement)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 113(5)(b), there is an agreement that we can dispense with the three minutes and move straight to the Division.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 43; Noes 45

AYES

Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms S Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mrs Cameron, Mr Givan

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr McAleer, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Bailey, Mr Carroll

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Before I put the Question, I remind Members that we will now vote on whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 43; Noes 45

AYES

Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms S Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mrs Cameron, Mrs Erskine

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr McAleer, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Bailey, Mr Carroll

Question accordingly negatived. Clause 2 disagreed to.

Question put, That the long title be agreed. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 42; Noes 45

AYES

Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms S Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Lyons, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mrs Cameron, Mrs Erskine

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr McAleer, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Bailey, Mr Carroll

Question accordingly negatived.

Long title disagreed to.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker. I ask Members to take their ease for a moment or two before we move to the final item of business in the Order Paper.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

Motion made: That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs).]