Submission on the Abortion Legislation Bill

Saving Downs is a grass-roots initiative supported by a large group of people with Down syndrome and their families. We focus on providing a balanced perspective on life with Down syndrome and supporting parents with a prenatal diagnosis.

Our concerns

Removal of 20-week gestational time limit for disability

  • Under section 187A of the Crimes Act there is currently a gestational time limit of 20-weeks for abortion for disability. 
  • Under the proposed law, the 20-week gestational time limit for disability abortions will be removed. 
  • Instead, abortion will be available for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth, providing one registered health practitioner signs off on the abortion under the new well-being grounds outlined in part one, clause seven of the Bill, that will allow for abortion up to birth. 
  • In the handful of jurisdictions that have a similar clause allowing for abortion up to birth, this has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth. 
  • The proposed New Zealand legislation in fact only requires one registered health practitioner, which could include a single nurse, rather than the higher threshold of two doctors, for example in Victoria, Australia which has a similar abortion up to birth clause.
  • There have been over 1,600 abortions of babies with a disability under a similar abortion up to birth clause in Victoria, Australia, since the law was changed in 2008.

Proposed law breaks promise by Jacinda Ardern

  • In 2017 we highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws and that this would introduce abortion through to birth for babies with disabilities. In response, Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.
  • In response to the concern raised by Saving Downs, Jacinda Ardern said: 
    • “They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”
  • Jacinda Ardern and her Government have broken this promise.

Impact of the new law on the community of people with Down syndrome

  • Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
  • The Government’s proposed change to the law could also see New Zealand fall foul of international disability rights obligations, as the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries that provide for abortion in a way which discriminates on the basis of disability.

Recommendation

  • That the Government ensures that the current 20-week time limit for disability abortions, including Down syndrome, is not removed by introducing a specific provision to the proposed law that clarifies that abortion for disability will not be permitted after 20-weeks.

Sign the open letter to Jacinda Ardern – Keep your promise, don’t introduce abortion up to birth for children with disabilities


The New Zealand Government have announced the details of its new abortion bill which, if it becomes law, will introduce abortion right through to birth for babies with disabilities.

You can read more details about the new abortion bill in our press release here.

In 2017 Saving Down’s highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws and that this would introduce abortion through to birth for babies with disabilities. In response Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.

In response to the concerns raised by Saving Downs, Jacinda Ardern said

“They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”

Sadly it appears that Jacinda has broken her promise to the Down’s syndrome community and her Government have brought forward a bill which, if it becomes law, will introduce disability-selective abortion through to birth.

Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

We know that there are many people within our community who are very concerned about the impact the Government’s bill will have and that Jacinda Ardern has broken her promise to our community.

If you are concerned, this is your opportunity to have your voice heard. Please add your name to the letter by clicking the button below. The letter asks the Prime Minister to make a commitment to ensure that she does not break her promise, and that the Government either withdraws the Bill or urgently introduces a specific provision to the Bill that will ensure that abortion for disabilities will not be allowed from right up to birth.

Press release – NZ Govt bill lifts time limit on abortions for disability from 20-weeks up to birth, breaking Jacinda Ardern’s promise to the disability community

TO PUT YOUR NAME TO OUR OPEN LETTER TO JACINDA ARDERN PLEASE CLICK HERE

PRESS RELEASE

Govt’s abortion bill lifts time limit on abortions for disability from 20-weeks up to birth, breaking Jacinda Ardern’s promise to the disability community

Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs have condemned the New Zealand Government’s new abortion bill which, if it becomes law, will introduce abortion for abortion right through to birth for babies with disabilities.

Under section 187A of the Crimes Act there is currently a gestational time limit of 20-weeks for abortion for disability, providing two doctors sign off on the abortion. 

The Government’s new abortion bill, if it becomes law, will remove the current 20-week gestational time limit for disability. Instead abortion will be available for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth, providing one registered health practitioner signs off on the abortion under the new well-being grounds outlined in part one, clause seven of the Bill, that will allow for abortion up to birth. In the handful of jurisdictions that have a similar clause allowing for abortion up to birth, this has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth. The proposed New Zealand legislation in fact only requires one registered health practitioner, which could include a single nurse, rather than the higher threshold of two doctors for example in Victoria, Australia which has a similar abortion up to birth clause.

In 2017 Saving Down’s highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws and that this would introduce abortion through to birth for babies with disabilities. In response Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.

In response to the concern raised by Saving Downs, Jacinda Ardern said

“They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”

The Government’s proposed change to the law could also see New Zealand fall foul of international disability rights obligations, as the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries that provide for abortion in a way which discriminates on the basis of disability.

Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

Today Saving Down’s have launched an open letter to Jacinda Ardern from people with Down syndrome and their families asking the Prime Minister to make a commitment to ensure that she does not break her promise, and that the Government either withdraws the Bill or urgently introduces a specific provision to the Bill that will ensure that abortion for disabilities will not be allowed from 20-weeks through to birth.

Mike Sullivan, head of Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs and father of Rebecca who has Down syndrome said:

“Thinking of my daughter, I can’t believe that in 2019 in Aotearoa, New Zealand we would see the coalition introducing a Government Bill which will introduce abortion through to birth for babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

Jacinda Ardern made a promise to our community ahead of the 2017 election that she would not increase the time limit for disabilities from 20-weeks. She has broken this promise, not only lifting the limit, but increasing it right through to birth.

This send a strong discriminatory message and a progressive New Zealand can do better for people with disabilities like my daughter than introducing abortion up to birth.

Today we have launched an open letter to Jacinda Ardern from people with Down syndrome and their families asking Jacinda Ardern to make a commitment to ensure that she does not break her promise, and either withdraws the Government’s bill or introduces a specific provision to the Bill that will ensure that abortion for disabilities will not be allowed from 20-week through to birth.

It is vital that she follows through on her promise and ensures that abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome are not allowed after 20 weeks. Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.”

ENDS

Mike Sullivan: A father’s plea on behalf of his disabled child

The BBC documentary a World Without Down’s Syndrome?, which screened on Tuesday night on TVNZ, gave the country an insight into the challenges that the community of people with Down syndrome and their families face with the introduction of new cfDNA​ tests. These are projected to lead to a further increase in the number of children with Down syndrome “screened out” by termination.

The documentary was fronted by Bridget Jones star Sally Phillips, who introduced us to her son Olly who has Down syndrome, and her journey as she grappled with the introduction of the new tests.

As a father of a daughter with Down syndrome, the most poignant segment of the programme for me was when Sally visited Iceland, where 100 per cent of families who are given a positive diagnosis now terminate.

It is profoundly difficult to hear of the impact that these tests will have on the number of children who are born with Down syndrome, and to think of the repercussions that this will have on the way that my daughter and her peers are viewed by society.

Full article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/90738344/mike-sullivan-a-fathers-plea-on-behalf-of-his-disabled-child

“Down’s Syndrome has to disappear from society” according to Hans Galjaard

“Down syndrome has to disappear from society,” according to Hans Galjaard, about the new genetic blood-screen NIPT. In his “opinion” he does not take into account the fact that people with Down syndrome judge life better than you and I. Now, the UK government proposed the accurate NIPT be implemented to the NHS screening program.

Professor Galjaard is an influential geneticist and former Unesco member who, on behalf of the United Nations has advised countries all over the world on prenatal screening. Ideas like his have shaped national prenatal screening programs worldwide.

Most Western countries have national prenatal screening programs that single out Down syndrome as a “free choice” for parents. These national screening programs are not aimed at detecting gender, or genes for sexual preference or transgender. That would (rightfully) send the wrong message to society that they would not be equally valued.

Children with Down syndrome need more attention, on average. And that costs money, and effort. And health-care is expensive enough as it is. It puts extra pressure on families and society parents are reminded. Meanwhile nobody discusses what it means to a woman when she aborts her pregnancy mid-term and delivers a dead baby. Nobody mentions the mental and emotional struggle she faces in knowing she played a role in her unborn childs death. The emptiness she feels and cannot explain to her husband. The gap that often starts growing in her relationship or her mother instinct that is absent in a subsequent pregnancy. The hurt she feels every time a happy and healthy child with Down syndrome passes her by.

Magazines hail the new test as the holy grail to women’s reproductive freedom. And women ask each other: Did you get tested? And the women who don’t are asked: did you know it in advance? A question that is so much more than plain interest. Your child is “your choice.” Why does society have to put extra effort and money into your choice? And so, under the pretense of “free choice,” over 90% of women do what society expects of them. The freedom to choose has become the duty to abort.

My son has two sisters with Down syndrome. He helps them with their schoolbag, they let him know they appreciate him by cuddling him to bits. A better person for it. In our family everyone is involved in all activities, even if that means we have to put in extra effort, wait a little longer or change our routine all together. Everyone is equal and everyone knows they are allowed to be who they are. Isn’t that the only choice we have as humans?

About the author: Renate Lindeman is a Mother of two children with Down syndrome, writer, disability activist, a representative for Saving Down syndrome and spokesperson for Downpride. Renate is the former president of the NS Down syndrome society.

Footnote:

Hans Galjaard may be an unknown name to most but he is widely known in the screening world. He was, and still is, a very influential geneticist who helped shape policies worldwide. He is mentioned in this PowerPoint presentation that is also very interesting. Already in the eighties they were working up to this moment: when genetic screening would become part of screening programs. They set the goal, made the agenda and identified obstacles and resistance from society. Of particular interest are slides 15, 24, 28 and 25. In the last one it is mentioned that “optimizing reproductive behaviour” will help reduce ”societal cost and burden.”