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Mum of Down's syndrome Belfast boy urges PM not to allow abortions over condition

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Nicola Woods and her son Daniel

Nicola Woods and her son Daniel

Nicola Woods and her son Daniel

The mother of a seven-year-old Belfast boy with Down's syndrome has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to introduce abortion for babies with the condition here.

Nicola Woods (34) is one of more than 1,000 people who have signed an open letter to Mr Johnson as new figures show there were 710 late-term abortions for Down's syndrome in England and Wales over the last 10 years.

Figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland show that while 52 children with Down's syndrome were born in 2016, in the same year only one child from here with the condition was aborted in England and Wales.

The letter has been backed by the Don't Screen Us Out community, a coalition of advocacy groups, who are concerned about the scope of the Northern Ireland regulations and the impact on families with Down's syndrome children.

Last October abortion in Northern Ireland was decriminalised by MPs at Westminster.

Prior to this abortion has been illegal except in very limited circumstances, such as where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.

The Northern Ireland Office held a six-week consultation on the legal framework governing abortion ahead of the introduction of termination services here on March 31, 2020.

The NIO consultation document covered a series of issues, including questions on the gestational limit for early terminations of pregnancy.

Nicola's eldest son Daniel was born with Down's syndrome, but she said her pregnancy with him was honoured and respected by the medical staff at every appointment.

Nicola, who is also mum to Rory (4) and Finn (2), said having Daniel has been a "delight" and the "biggest blessing" to her family.

"Sometimes there are days that are tough, if Daniel has a lot of appointments or the extra work involved with his statement of special educational needs or if he's had a bad night's sleep," she added.

"Daniel himself is a delight. He lives in the moment, doesn't worry about mistakes he made last week or something difficult happening in the future. His joy in the simple things of life has radiated to all those around him."

Nicola said imposing abortion laws, including around Down's syndrome and other disabilities, implies their lives are not worth living, when the absolute opposite is the case.

"People are deluded if they think this won't have a negative impact on the Down's syndrome community here in Northern Ireland when it is the safest place to be diagnosed with a disability," she added.

"We in Northern Ireland should be left to make our own decisions about abortion law.

"People are keen to advocate for equality once babies are born, but not for the unborn child with a disability.

"Unborn children with disabilities are most vulnerable before they are born, where screening and abortion is the norm. Northern Ireland protects them and we want it to stay that way."

Don't Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray claims the new regulations here will allow abortion on request for any reason, which will include conditions such as Down's syndrome.

The group has urged the UK Government to commit to add a simple provision to the abortion framework that will outline that abortion for Down's syndrome will explicitly not be allowed.

Lynn said: "If the Government are not prepared to ensure abortion for Down's syndrome is not introduced in the final framework, they need to confirm this publicly and make it clear that their intention is to introduce abortion for disability-selective Down's syndrome to Northern Ireland.

"The proposed framework would likely lead to a big increase in abortion for congenital conditions detected pre-birth in Northern Ireland, and would reduce the numbers of our already very small community.

"This would have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down's syndrome."

She added: "Our attitude towards people with disabilities has changed and our laws must reflect that."

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