Disability should not become a death sentence in Ireland

I am the parent of a child with a disability. Persons with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else, regardless of their age. Yet in England and Wales, 90 per cent of pregnancies where the unborn baby has Down syndrome are aborted. This is a tragic reality in our nearest neighbouring country.

Every human life is valuable, and our Constitution currently protects all members of the human family regardless of their age or abilities. The Government and Minister Simon Harris plan to change the law to allow implicit discrimination against people with disabilities by allowing medical professionals to end the life of a child for no reason up to three months or when that child may die “shortly” after birth.

If we change our law we will be not only reflecting our values but also shaping the society that it regulates. In that case, are we a society that welcomes and values people with disabilities, or are we, like England and Wales, on the way to eradicating disability, by taking the lives of children in the womb?

Disability should not become a death sentence, however, everywhere that abortion is introduced, there is a rise in abortions for disability reasons. In Poland, for example, in 2016, there were 1,098 cases of abortion, out of these 1,042 were performed because the child was potentially disabled.

This rise in eugenic abortions has triggered an uproar in Polish society, members of which have begun asking the government to properly protect the right to life and the right of disabled people to be treated equally. If we take the right to life out of the Irish Constitution will we similar outcry when the number of Down syndrome children being born falls massively?

Down Syndrome Ireland, the organisation that claims to represent our families, has shamefully not spoken out to defend the right to life of children with disabilities. I am deeply disturbed by the lack of outcry from the disability sector.

More than a third of abortions performed in Poland on the basis of potential disability are due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Current advances in pregnancy screening mean a woman can now find out as early as nine or 10 weeks into her pregnancy, with more than 99 per cent certainty, whether her unborn baby has Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome.

Prof Fergal Malone in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, confirmed that screening tests for Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome are available to everybody, regardless of age, but that the risk of these conditions increases as women get older. Now that many women are having pregnancies later in life, particularly over the age of 35, the number of women availing of the test for Down syndrome will certainly increase.

We have seen that in the UK when the test shows that the unborn baby has Down syndrome, 90 per cent of these pregnancies end in abortion. In other European countries such as Iceland, Norway, and Denmark, the rate of abortion for babies with Down syndrome is even higher, at over 95 per cent.

Will we see a similar rate of abortions for Down syndrome here if the Eighth Amendment is repealed? It would be foolish to believe that we are so very different from our European neighbours, it is an enormous risk to take with the lives of children with Down syndrome to repeal their main legal protection.

Our society should use its considerable resources to support every mother and her unborn child. We have made so much progress in recent years supporting children with disabilities in schools and in the community. I think that we were all proud of the way our country hosted the Special Olympic World Games in 2003. The legacy of progress we have made in recent years should not be ended by stripping away the main legal protection that disabled people have in the Constitution by removing the Eighth Amendment.

Abortion on demand is not a caring, compassionate, answer to disability. Our society will be judged in the future on how it treats its weakest members, taking their rights away before they even draw their first breath is not how we want our future generations to remember us. Our legacy should be to work together to create an environment in which all parents feel able to welcome their children into the world, regardless of disability. This is why I will be voting ‘no’ to the Government's abortion plan on May 25.

Nicola McNabb is a parent of a young adult with disability and lives in Moycullen with her family.

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