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MPs vote to give NI minister new powers to impose expanded abortion despite strong criticism in debate

MPs have this evening voted by 431 votes to 89 to approve new regulations that will give the Northern Ireland secretary sweeping new powers to impose expanded abortion access on Northern Ireland.

The vote followed a debate on the regulations yesterday evening where several MPs grilled Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, for giving himself the new powers.

The MPs raised concerns during a debate held at the First Delegated Legislation Committee.

The regulations will give the Northern Ireland Secretary new powers, enabling him to force Stormont to expand abortion access across Northern Ireland through the commissioning of abortion services. The new powers will allow Brandon Lewis to direct the First Minister, deputy First Minister, a Northern Ireland Minister, a Northern Ireland department, the Regional Health and Social Care Board, and the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being.

Not wanted by the people of Northern Ireland

In the debate last night, Miriam Cates, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, highlighted that the people of Northern Ireland do not want abortion imposed on the region by Westminster.

“Abortion is a devolved issue, and the only legal or moral basis for the 2019 intervention by the UK Government was that there was no sitting Northern Ireland Assembly at that time. As we are all aware, that is no longer the case, and the Assembly has shown itself to be perfectly competent in developing its own legislation”.

“There is no longer any justification for the UK Government to enforce the regulations. Pressing ahead, as we are doing today, is a breach of the Belfast agreement and weakens the trust and respect upon which devolution is founded…. [T]he Northern Ireland Assembly opposes the regulations. When the people of Northern Ireland were consulted on the regulations last year, 80% rejected them”.

“An unrestricted abortion regime”

She went on to describe how the UK Government has chosen to impose an abortion regime on Northern Ireland that goes far beyond current abortion legislation in England, Wales and Scotland, saying: 

“[These] measures go beyond Great Britain equivalents. They mandate an abortion regime that is quite unrestricted and, I believe, unsafe. Unlike in England and Wales, there will be no requirement for two doctors to certify, and abortion will be routinely available at GP’s surgeries rather than only in restricted places. Although I appreciate the Government’s requirement for safeguards, the regulations could permit sex-selective abortion by default, as they allow abortion for any reason until 12 weeks’ gestation”.

Cates also highlighted how the new regulations would allow abortion up to birth for all babies with disabilities. This would include conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. As Sir John Hayes MP added, such provisions mean Northern Ireland could end up with a circumstance where rather than being equivalent to the rest of Great Britain, they would become “considerably more permissive” in regards to abortion provisions.

Conservative MP Miriam Cates added “Unlike in England and Wales, there will be no requirement for two doctors to certify, and abortion will be routinely available at GP’s surgeries rather than only in restricted places. Although I appreciate the Government’s requirement for safeguards, the regulations could permit sex-selective abortion by default, as they allow abortion for any reason until 12 weeks’ gestation”.

No basis to claims that international obligations are being breached

Northern Ireland MP Jim Shannon also raised concerns that there has been no consultation with the people of Northern Ireland on the new regulations, despite abortion being a devolved matter in Northern Ireland “since it was created in 1921”. He went on, “It was argued by many that the Secretary of State needed to agree to the proposed section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 because it was required to meet international obligations. I believe it is clear that those arguments were false” and described the legislation as “Constitutionally flawed”.

Carla Lockhart MP said: “The regulations are not just based on the false premise that they are a requirement of international law… [T]he case for the vote on 9 July 2019 was greatly strengthened by a claim that it is now clear was not true”. 

“The CEDAW convention, which is international law and is supposed to define the terms of reference of the CEDAW committee, does not even mention abortion, let alone define a right to it. Moreover, the CEDAW committee is not a judicial body, and it does not have standing to read in a right to abortion, as demonstrated by Professor Mark Hill, QC”.

She went on, “I want pathways for those women to choose life…I hear so little about the unborn. I hear so little about the baby being aborted. Unfortunately, those little babies do not have a voice…  I call on [all Members] to press the Government to propose the repeal of section 9, and leave the issue with democratically elected politicians in Northern Ireland”.

Right to Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson said: “The Government’s new powers on abortion in Northern Ireland would directly undermine devolution if enacted. There is an elected and sitting Northern Ireland Assembly that is authorised to make decisions on devolved matters including abortion, and it is extraordinary that Westminster should seek to enforce such a radical change in policy on such a sensitive issue”.

“The passing of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill by such an overwhelming majority of Northern Irish MLAs and the huge public support behind this Bill shows that there is no appetite for further Westminster imposition of abortion on Northern Ireland. Sadly though, it appears the Government will hardly likely let a trifle like ‘the will of the people’ and ‘respect for sovereignty’ get in the way of their plans to expand abortion access at all costs”.

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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