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Lords Committee critical of extreme NI abortion regime in second report

A highly influential House of Lord’s Committee has again criticised the Government’s approach to imposing abortion on Northern Ireland.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which scrutinises legislation parliament has granted the Government power to introduce, has released a new report highlighting even more concerns with the extreme regulations.

Chief among the Committee’s new criticisms is that neither the current set nor the former set of abortion regulations, imposed on Northern Ireland, have been introduced without the scrutiny or approval of MPs or Peers.

The report notes that while “no services have been formally commissioned in Northern Ireland” some abortion provision has been made available, as confirmed by a recent disclosure which revealed at least 129 babies have been aborted under the new extreme abortion regime.  

It suggests MPs may wish to press the Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker, about the extent of the service provision since 1 April 2020 – something they will have a chance to do later today (Monday 8 June 2020).

The House of Lords Committee also raises significant concerns from the Lord Brennan QC, and leading barrister, Ian Leist QC who have questioned the legitimacy of the extreme abortion regime.

In a submission to the House of Lords Committee the pair described last month’s decision to re-table the regulations four months after the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly as “constitutionally indefensible”.

They add: “The Government should not have re-tabled but should instead be asking parliament to repeal Section 9. This again is a matter of fundamental legal and political importance that I would suggest must be brought to the attention of the House.”

Repealing section 9 of the regulations would give the people of Northern Ireland the power to decide its own abortion legislation.

In addition to the submissions made in the first report, which highlighted overwhelming opposition to the regulations and condemned how they came about, this second report references further critical submissions.

Abortions for cleft lip?

Following the launch of a Bill seeking to clarify cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot are not grounds for abortion, new submissions from Carla Lockhart MP and Sir Edward Leigh MP have highlighted how the extreme regulations in Northern Ireland won’t prevent abortions being performed for such conditions.

Carla Lockhart said: “This is discrimination based solely on disability… I believe human being extends to those in the womb (notably, the term is more expansive than the term ‘person’ which some suggest does not cover those in the womb), and allowing abortion for disability clearly does not treat those in the womb with disabilities equally.”

Sir Edward Leigh said: “As a Member of Parliament for England, I find it incredibly distressing that the UK Government legally permits disability-selective abortion at a time period where the law recognises that babies are capable of being born alive. What makes this worse is that the UK Government is imposing a similar discriminatory law on Northern Ireland.”

‘Women are less protected’ 

In a separate submission, Lord Brennan QC highlights how protections for women from being coerced into abortions have been weakened with the new regulations and open them up to coercive abortions. 

He said: “Women are less well protected from coercive abortions in Northern Ireland today than anywhere else in the UK. Moreover, they are far from compliant with Article 39 of the Istanbul Convention which requires signatories to prohibit coercive abortion. 

“Again, the fact that these Regulations inexplicably do not deal properly with coercive abortion makes them politically and legally important. These Regulations consequently give rise to issues of public policy that are certain to be of interest to the House.”

Lack of conscience protections is discriminatory

Lord Brennan, Lord Alton, Baroness O’Loan and pro-life groups Both Lives Matter and NI Voiceless have all highlighted the lack of adequate conscience protections in the legislation. It could mean some healthcare professionals could be forced to participate in abortion procedures or face losing their jobs.

Lord Alton of Liverpool said the new legislation discriminates against doctors, healthcare professionals, administrative and managerial staff and puts them

in a position where they may be disadvantaged in their employment opportunities because of their views on abortion.

Abuse of power

Right To Life UK also raised a number of problems with the regulations, showing how “the UK Government went far beyond what they were legally required to when laying these regulations, despite the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive in January”.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“These regulations legalise sex-selective abortion and introduce abortion for babies with disabilities including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome to birth. They introduce defacto abortion-on-demand to Northern Ireland through to 24-weeks. 

“They also open up abortion provision to midwives and nurses. This goes much further than the law In England and Wales, where abortions can only be performed by a doctor and the Abortion Act requires the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.  

“This influential Committee has twice chosen to draw these regulations to the special attention of the House, reporting on a number of serious issues with the regulations.

“MPs at Westminster must take on board these criticisms, as they debate the regulations today ahead of a vote later this month.”

Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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Dear reader

In 2020, the UK Government imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which included a provision that legalised abortion right up to birth for disabilties including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

A new Bill has been launched at the Northern Ireland assembly that will remove the current provision that allows abortion for ‘severe fetal impairment’.

It is under these grounds in the regulations that babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can currently be singled out for abortion in Northern Ireland because of their disability and can be aborted right up to birth.

Before the new abortion regime was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, disability-selective abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot was not legal and there was a culture of welcoming and supporting people with these disabilities rather than eliminating them.

This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while there were 52 children born with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. 

This contrasts with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom where disability-selective abortion has been legal since 1967.

The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

We are, therefore, asking people like you to take 30 seconds of your time and add your support to the campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.

If you live in Northern Ireland: 
Ask your MLAs to vote to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot:

If you live outside Northern Ireland: 
Show your support by signing this petition in support of the Bill:

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