Government recognises large numbers of pro-life voices during debate on proposed abortion framework in Northern Ireland

A number of pro-life MPs from across the political spectrum have expressed their dismay that Westminster is continuing with its plans to impose an extreme abortion law on Northern Ireland. 

The debate, which took place in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening, heard politicians rally in defence of unborn children, to respect devolution in Northern Ireland and to reverse Westminster’s extreme abortion regime imposed upon Northern Ireland.

Opening the debate, in place of Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, a Minister for Northern Ireland and Conservative MP Robin Walker said: “the Government are working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland, as required by the 2019 Act.” 

He confirmed the new framework will be in force by 31 March 2020.

However, a number of MPs have expressed deep concern that the proposed legislation goes far beyond what the Government was required to do by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 and could lead to abortion, for any reason, up to 24 weeks.

Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said she was deeply concerned by the width and breadth of the consultation raising concerns in her mind about possible changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland going much further than anticipated.

She added: “I am deeply concerned that the abortion framework that may be proposed by the Northern Ireland Office might go far beyond those three circumstances. For example, it may allow for access to abortion on request for any reason up to 12 weeks’ gestation, and then up to 24 weeks.”

Fiona Bruce also revealed that a number of clinicians in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned about their right to ​conscientiously object to engagement in abortion treatment procedures, and may not be given the same protections they have in England and Wales.

DUP MP Jim Shannon echoed Fiona Bruce’s concerns – that the proposed changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland go further than required, quoting the expert legal opinion of David Scoffield QC which stated:

“The question posed to me is essentially whether, if the… Secretary of State… determined to do no more than necessary to comply with his strict legal obligations under the 2019 Act, the proposals set out in the consultation go beyond this… I consider it to be relatively simple to conclude that the answer to this question is ‘yes’.”

Jim Shannon then asked the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider their “radical proposals”, saying they “constitute a clear political choice on the part of the NIO to undermine devolution to a greater extent than the 2017 to 2019 Parliament required…, which would effectively lead to abortion on request for any reason between 12 or 14 weeks’ and 22 or 24 weeks’ gestation.”

Under one of the proposed options being consulted on, abortion could be available for any reason, up to birth, for babies with Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, club foot and other perceived disabilities.

Dr Lisa Cameron, who received hundreds of abusive messages and a threat of deselection for voting against imposing extreme abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, raised concerns from the Don’t Screen Us Out community, who are particularly concerned about the scope of the regulations and the impact on families with Down’s syndrome children.

“I hope that the Minister will comment on whether there has been consultation with that group [Don’t Screen Us Out], because, as I am sure the hon. Lady would agree, that would be very helpful.”

In her maiden speech in the House of Commons, DUP MP Carla Lockhart defended the right to life of unborn babies and called for the Government to respect devolution in Northern Ireland.

“I want a society in Northern Ireland that values life, and I want to see services that will help women choose life. We want to see a perinatal palliative care centre, a maternal mental health unit and better childcare services, and that is my ask of this Government. Help us create a culture of choosing life, as opposed to killing an innocent little baby that does not have the voice to say, ’No, mummy!’

“It is incomprehensible that the Government, knowing that abortion was a devolved matter, have published consultation proposals to introduce changes that go far beyond what has actually been required by Parliament.”

However, Alliance MP Stephen Farry stated he was “content” that Westminster had ignored devolution and imposed extreme legislation on Northern Ireland.

Labour MP Tony Lloyd seemed to agree with the sentiment saying: “if the Assembly were to legislate contrary to the UK Government’s establishment of a process for safe and legal abortion, our efforts would have been futile.”

Closing the debate, Robin Walker, stated how, in the previous debate on Northern Ireland, he was “getting beaten up very heavily by pro-choice colleagues on the Opposition Benches,” yet, “on this occasion, perhaps the voice was slightly louder from the pro-life people, who I am happy to meet to try to address their concerns further, to ensure that we take this forward in the best possible way and in a way that is respectful of the concerns in the community in Northern Ireland and more widely.”

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