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The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has launched an Inquiry into Abortion Law in Northern Ireland. It appears that this Inquiry has been set-up to try and put more pressure on the Government to impose abortion on Northern Ireland. It is therefore vital that as many individuals as possible make written submissions to the Inquiry.

Full details on the Inquiry including scope and terms of reference are available here. For more details on how to make a submission to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into Abortion Law in Northern Ireland please click here.

For further background information on abortion in Northern Ireland, beyond the points below, we recommend visiting the Both Lives Matter website and in particular looking at the Both Lives Matter One Hundred Thousand report.

Devolution

  • This is a devolved issue which should be decided by politicians in Northern Ireland, not Westminster.
  • Not a single member of the Women and Equalities Committee represents a seat in Northern Ireland.
  • It is acknowledged that the Northern Ireland Assembly is temporarily suspended at present. However, it would be constitutionally inappropriate and counter-productive to interfere in relation to such a sensitive subject at such a sensitive time for Northern Ireland.
  • Such a move by politicians at Westminster would set a worrying precedent for other devolved assemblies.
  • Recent ComRes polling of NI adults shows that 64% of people think that abortion should be decided by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives, rising to 66% of women and 70% of 18 to 34 year olds.

Distinctive law and culture

  • The law on abortion in Northern Ireland has been proven to save lives. Research conducted by ‘Both Lives Matter’ in 2017 found that an estimated 100,000 individuals are alive today who otherwise would not be had Northern Ireland followed England, Scotland and Wales in adopting the 1967 Abortion Act. Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority about this claim but after a 5-month investigation, involving health statisticians, the ASA concluded that the 100,00 figure was indeed reasonable.
  • Claims that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland do not stop abortion are, therefore, empirically baseless. The law does make a difference.
  • In addition, the law on abortion in Northern Ireland protects individuals who are disabled from unjustified discrimination. In England, Scotland and Wales, unborn children can be aborted up to term if a disability is identified in utero. In Northern Ireland, this is not the case. This makes a major difference.
  • The latest figures show that around 90% of those babies identified in utero to have Down’s Syndrome in England, Scotland and Wales are aborted. In Northern Ireland on the other hand, in 2016, there were 52 children born who had Downs syndrome and in the same year only one mother travelled from Northern Ireland to England and Wales for a disability selective-abortion of a baby in the womb with Downs syndrome.
  • As Lord Shinkwin put it recently in the House of Lords, “Northern Ireland is the safest place in our United Kingdom to be diagnosed with a disability before birth.”
  • It is something to be celebrated that we in Northern Ireland do not discriminate against the disabled in the womb.

Human rights and equality

  • Although a number of Supreme Court Justices recently indicated that they think that on two narrow points – life limiting conditions and sexual crime – the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, these comments were non-binding.
  • Even if a future court made a binding ruling, the cases in question only engage a tiny number of abortion cases in practice.
  • Less than 2% of recorded abortions in England and Wales in 2017 were granted on these grounds.
  • The argument is frequently made that the UN says that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are not human rights compliant and that Northern Ireland should decriminalise abortion.
  • The truth, however, is that this does not refer to the view of the United Nations as a body, but to a report issued by one committee, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
  • It might be believed that the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which defines the remit of the CEDAW Committee, sets out a right to abortion which Northern Ireland is failing to deliver. In truth, however, at no point does the Convention mention abortion.
  • As a non-judicial body, Prof Mark Hill QC has pointed out that CEDAW has no legal standing to read such a right into the Convention, much as some of its members may wish to do so.
  • Members of the United Kingdom Supreme Court have also highlighted that the views of bodies such as the CEDAW Committee are only of marginal relevance. As Lord Wilson put it, “the authority of their recommendations is slight.”
  • There is a danger that the Women’s and Equalities Committee accepts the lie that women can only be equal when they have an absolute right to abortion in any circumstance for any reason. This pitches a women against her unborn child and measures their freedom, equality and progress by their ability to end the life of their own child. This is a dangerous and destructive way to view women and humanity more widely. Many women, men and children see a better and more human way ahead which values the life, health and dignity of both as far as possible.