NUS-USI President and NUS Women’s Officer urge Sinn Féin not to stand with the DUP on abortion restriction

The president of NUS-USI and NUS Women’s Officer have backed an Alliance for Choice campaign calling on Sinn Féin MLAs to withdraw support for a DUP motion to restrict all “non-fatal anomalies” abortions. The DUP motion is tabled for debate at Stormont on Tuesday 2nd June and Sinn Féin have proposed a supportive amendment.

NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh said: “We have already seen far too many women and pregnant people forced to travel to England to access abortion in cases of serious foetal anomalies. The restrictions in the motion (amended or not) will force many more people to travel to England because fear of criminal penalties will prevent local medical professionals from providing care in cases of catastrophic but not necessarily fatal foetal anomalies. Denying care to people experiencing a serious fetal anomaly is not in line with current medical best practice or the recommendations of the CEDAW 2018 report on Northern Ireland.

“To live up to its commitment to social justice, Sinn Féin must ensure that no one is forced to travel to England for healthcare. An all-island policy on abortion should ensure free, safe, legal and local abortion care across the island, not equally limited access that requires travel to England. We urge Sinn Féin to update its policy on abortion at the next Ard Fheis to match current best medical practice and the CEDAW recommendations.”

NUS Women’s Officer, Rachel Watters said: “It is extremely disappointing to see Sinn Féin engaging with this motion that seeks to restrict access to abortion to only fatal anomalies, as this has been shown in the Republic of Ireland to restrict care to a small number of cases where medical professionals can be absolutely certain of a fatal diagnosis. The criminalisation of medical professionals coupled with this restriction creates a chilling effect that perpetuates the lack of access to abortion we saw before repeal of the 8th Amendment and abortion reform in Westminster.

“The voices of disabled people must be heard directly in this discussion. As Disabled Women Ireland have stated: “Restrictions on abortion will only place further restrictions on the reproductive rights and freedoms of people with disabilities.” This motion does not engage with the human rights of disabled people who can become pregnant and it does not respect the wishes of disabled people’s organisations in Ireland to not be used as a token in arguments for restricting abortion.

“I urge Sinn Féin MLAs to read the individual stories of people who experienced serious foetal anomalies on In Her Shoes Northern Ireland and reflect on whether this pattern of devastating experiences is a status quo they can continue to support.”

Project Choice is a student led pro-choice campaign which forms part of NUS-USI’s national Trust Us campaign for reproductive justice.

Chair of the group, Hamsavani Rajeswaren, said: “The intentions to protect disabled lives through this motion is clearly disingenuous. The motion only seeks to shame pregnant people who choose to terminate pregnancy on the grounds of foetal anomaly and uses disabled people as a tool in the argument to restrict and discourage safe access to abortions.

“Pregnant people need to be able to access clear medical information, as well as information around perinatal care and support, to allow them to make decisions on their reproductive healthcare, should they choose to have a termination or not. Any barriers to this, such as what this motion seeks to achieve, will mean information will be shaped by biases and assumptions about disability, and only denies care to them at an already difficult time.”

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