In July 2019 an amendment was passed to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill requiring the Government to introduce a new abortion framework for Northern Ireland that would have to be implemented by 31st March 2020.
The amendment outlined limited changes to abortion law that would need to be made and implemented.
The Conservative Government has now proposed a framework which goes far beyond what the limited changes strictly necessary to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. In many ways, the proposed framework also goes far beyond the existing law in England and Wales, scrapping many of the current legal safeguards provided by the Abortion Act in England and Wales.
100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today because Northern Ireland did not accept the same abortion law that was introduced into Britain in 1967.
For the Conservative Government to go beyond what is strictly necessary to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019, after it has repeatedly stated that it wishes to respect the devolution settlement and the people of Northern Ireland, is unacceptable and unnecessary.
This proposed abortion framework is a blatant attempt by the Government to further undermine the will of the people of Northern Ireland. It adds insult to injury after Westminster voted to impose new abortion laws on Northern Ireland and will likely lead to an even larger increase in the number of lives lost to abortion.
The introduction of the new framework is proposed to take place on March 31st 2020. This will follow the current ‘limbo period’ in Northern Ireland, following the change in the law on October 22, where there is now no law protecting the unborn child through to 28-weeks. During this ‘limbo period’, there is only limited guidance from the Government recommending how abortion access should be provided during this period.
This article highlights some of the key consequences of introducing the framework that has been proposed.
It is vital that as many people as possible write to their MPs asking them to take action to stop this framework being introduced. It only takes 30-seconds to write to your MP on this important issue by clicking here.
KEY FACTS (CLICK TO READ FULL DETAILS)
- Abortions could be performed almost anywhere including schools, mobile abortion clinics and through ‘Facetime’ consultations
- There will be no requirement that a doctor must be involved – health visitors, dieticians, art therapists and hearing aid dispensers could provide abortions
- Disability-selective abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot could be available up to birth
- Sex-selective abortion will be legalised
- De-facto abortion on demand will be available through to either 22 or 24 weeks
- There will be limited conscientious objection protections in law for pro-life health professionals who don’t want to perform abortions
- Legal abortion of twins – select one to live and one to die
- Young girls will be able to get abortions without their parent’s consent
- Babies born alive after abortion to be left to die
- Legalised partial-birth abortions
- No pain relief be given to babies during abortions
- Fast-tracked abortions: No consideration period for women
- No law to help prevent boyfriends from coercing a woman into having an abortion
- Private abortion clinics’ horrific history of abuses could be worse in NI with no legal restrictions
- More difficult to prosecute men who slip abortion pills into a woman’s food
- The State will have the authority to force women to have abortions
- No provision for independent counselling from women who seek abortion
- Abortion on-demand would cost Northern Ireland £5 million a year
1. Abortions could be performed almost anywhere including schools, mobile abortion clinics and through ‘Facetime’ consultations
MPs and Peers voted to directly repeal Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act in Northern Ireland. Repealing this legislation will mean the only legal protection for unborn children remaining would be the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 which only applies from 28-weeks gestation.
The Government at Westminster have said that they will be bringing in regulations on 31st March 2020, but there has been no commitment at all from them to ensure that there will be primary legislation brought forward to introduce a legal time limit lower than 28-weeks. We have included more analysis of this situation here.
There would be no legal restrictions on locations where abortions can take place (Section 2.6 – page 21).
In England and Wales, the Abortion Act (1967) currently restricts abortion to hospitals or places approved by the Secretary of State. This means that abortions are available in a limited number of approved locations.
Under the proposal being consulted on, abortion locations would not be limited in law to hospitals or places approved by the Secretary of State and it would be left to Northern Ireland Commissioners to decide where abortions could take place.
In practice, it would be possible that:
- Manual vacuum aspiration abortions could be performed in school nurse clinics or abortion pills handed out by school nurses to pregnant girls.
- Abortions could be available in thousands of locations in communities across Northern Ireland including; sexual health clinics, all GPs surgeries, school nurse clinics, pharmacies, university health clinics etc. This could also include abortions being available in mobile abortion clinics.
- ‘Facetime abortions‘ where an abortion consultation happens over the phone or via Facetime/Skype could take place. The abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) would then be picked up from a pharmacy. There would nothing to stop abortion pills being taken at other locations such as schools, colleges etc, possibly under coercion from third-parties.
- There could be a surge in the building of new private abortion clinics throughout the province with Maries Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service seeking to capitalise on the opening up of a major new market, without many of the current legal safeguards they have to adhere to in England and Wales.
2. There will be no requirement that a doctor must be involved – health visitors, dieticians, art therapists and hearing aid dispensers could provide abortions
Any “registered healthcare professional” would be able to provide terminations (Section 2.5 – page 20).
In England and Wales, abortions can only be performed by a registered medical practitioner (doctor) and the Abortion Act requires the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.
Even with this legal restriction in place, there are still many cases of complications during abortions in the UK, resulting in babies being born alive, women’s uterus’ being perforated or severe haemorrhaging that has resulted in death.
Under the proposal being consulted on, there is no requirement that a doctor performs the abortion and no requirement for the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.
‘Any other registered healthcare professional’ could include healthcare assistants, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, health visitors, dieticians, art therapists and hearing aid dispensers.
In 2017, Maria Caulfield MP described a failed attempt to remove doctors from the abortion process as “a charter for unsafe abortion practices, not dissimilar to the back-street abortions that the Abortion Act 1967 was supposedly meant to end.”
3. Disability-selective abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot could be available up to birth
Under one of the proposal options being consulted on, abortion for disabilities would be available through to birth when “The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life”. (Section 2.3 – page 17).
In England and Wales, wording that has appeared similarly restrictive (‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’) has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.
In England and Wales – where abortion is available up until birth if a baby has a disability – people with disabilities are unjustly and disproportionately targeted by abortion legislation.
The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.
Northern Ireland has a very different approach. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not permitted and there is a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability 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 the same year, only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.
This very large discriminatory change was highlighted in two speeches by disabled peer Lord Shinkwin in the House of Lords when he was speaking against the proposed changes. One of these videos is featured below.
4. Sex-selective abortion will be legalised
Sex-selective abortion would be available on-demand through to 12 or 14 weeks (Section 2.2 – page 13).
Abortion on-demand, without certification, through to 12 or 14 weeks would allow for sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand.
Additionally, there will be no specific provision banning sex-selective abortion through 22 or 24 weeks.
Sex-selective abortion usually targets baby girls due to a preference among certain parents and some cultures for having sons.
This is not speculation: this practice is already happening in other countries which have very permissive abortion laws. For example, abortion is available in Canada for any reason and as such, it has been described as a “haven” for parents wishing to have an abortion because their child is a girl.
There is also evidence of this practice in the UK and it is possible that a form of ‘abortion tourism’ will arise as people from other countries seek abortions on the basis of the sex of their child.
5. De-facto abortion on demand will be available through to either 22 or 24 weeks
Abortion would be available through to either 22 or 24 weeks ‘provided grounds similar to those in England and Wales are met in relation to mental wellbeing grounds’. (Section 2.2 – page 15).
In England and Wales, this wording has in practice allowed for de-facto abortion on demand.
De-facto abortion on demand to 22 or 24 weeks is very far out of line with any previous proposals in Northern Ireland, the most recent of which was to introduce abortion only for babies with life-limiting disabilities.
Not only is it way out of line with where Northern Ireland has in the past proposed change, but it also goes further than where most other European countries sit on this issue. The current median time limit for most abortions across EU countries is 12-weeks, and similarly across the border in the Republic of Ireland where abortion is also restricted in most cases to 12-weeks gestation.
6. There will be limited conscientious objection protections in law for pro-life health professional who don’t want to perform abortions
Conscientious objection protections are provided but would operate in a very different environment (Section 2.8 – page 26).
The proposal appears to seek to mirror legislation in England and Wales which does not provide protection for healthcare professionals undertaking ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks involved with an abortion procedure.
The proposed framework allows for a far wider group of health professionals beyond doctors to be involved with providing terminations in a far wider number of locations.
This could mean that a far wider group of health professionals could be affected by the legislation and possibly involved in ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks where they are not provided protection.
7. Legal abortion of twins – select one to live and one to die
In England and Wales, in 2018, 111 ‘selective termination’ procedures were performed where a twin, triplet or more were aborted in the womb.
This is often done to ‘reduce’ the number of babies in a pregnancy.
There is no mention in the proposed framework of legal restrictions on this controversial type of abortion taking place in Northern Ireland.
8. Young girls will be able to get abortions without their parent’s consent
Young girls, 15 years old and younger, could be taken by school nurses to private abortion clinics for abortions or a school nurse could perform a manual vacuum aspiration abortion on a child, without their parent’s consent. Abortion pills could also be given out at schools without parental knowledge and consent.
This would allow for the absurd situation where most schools would not allow a child to be given an Ibuprofen pill by a school nurse without a parent giving their consent, but at the same time, there would be no legal restriction on that same school nurse performing an abortion on a child without her parent’s consent.
The proposed framework does not mention the introduction of any specific legal safeguards to prevent third-parties from taking children for abortions without their parent’s consent. This could possibly also include an adult who has sexually abused a child who has become pregnant and takes them for an abortion to help cover-up that they have been sexually abusing a child.
9. Babies born alive after abortion to be left to die
With there being no law on abortion through to 28-weeks, there will be no legal requirement that babies born alive after an abortion are resuscitated or provided with medical assistance.
In the proposed framework, there is no mention of a legal requirement that babies born alive after an abortion are resuscitated or provided with medical assistance.
This is more common than many people think. In 2008, a UK report found that 66 infants were born alive after NHS terminations in one year. The majority of those 66 babies took over an hour to die.
In Victoria, Australia, where there is a similarly extreme abortion law, scores of babies were left to die after being removed alive during a number of ‘botched’ terminations, according to one official review.
The review reported that in 2011 there were 40 ‘terminations of pregnancy’ after 20 weeks ‘resulting in live birth’. While these figures are comparable in scale, Victoria’s population of 5.5 million is just a tenth of Britain’s.
This shows the scale of this problem in an environment where there are very few legal safeguards around abortion.
10. Legalised partial-birth abortions
With no law before 28-weeks, there will be no legal restrictions on the types of abortion methods used to abort babies.
In the proposed framework there is no mention of a legal restriction on the types of abortion methods used to abort babies.
This could allow for the use of particularly gruesome abortion methods such intact dilation and extraction abortions (also knows as partial-birth abortions) and other controversial methods of abortion.
A ‘partial-birth’ abortion involves the following.
- Feticidal injection of digoxin or potassium chloride may be administered at the beginning of the procedure to allow for softening of the fetal bones.
- During the procedure, the fetus is removed in a breech position.
- If the baby’s skull is too large to fit through the birth canal, it is crushed to allow the skull to be removed. Decompression of the skull can be accomplished by incision and suction of the contents, or by using forceps.
11. No pain relief be given to babies during abortions
In England and Wales, the Department of Health has recently confirmed that pain relief is being given to babies with spina bifida undergoing surgery in the womb from 20-26 weeks.
In the proposed framework there is no mention of a legal requirement that babies undergoing a late-term abortion at the same gestation receive pain relief ahead of being aborted.
Bear in mind that many of these late-term abortions will have to be performed using a D&E procedure in which, according to RCOG, the ‘fetus is removed in fragments’. For some procedures babies will first receive an injection of potassium chloride to effectively induce a heart attack – it can take minutes to several hours to work according to abortion provider BPAS.
12. Fast-tracked abortions: No consideration period for women
In a number of European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland, there is a consideration period in place before an abortion can take place.
This period gives a woman who is considering an abortion more time to consider all of the options available to her.
The proposed framework does not mention that there would be a consideration period in place in Northern Ireland.
This is especially concerning given the likelihood that private abortion providers – who have been accused by the Care Quality Commission of using high-pressure sales tactics to get women to undergo abortions and have also run ‘lunch-hour’ abortion services – will likely be ‘setting up’ shop in Northern Ireland.
13. No law to help prevent boyfriends from coercing a woman into having an abortion
Legal coercion protections provide a process to ensure that women are not under undue pressure from their partner, family, friends, or others to have an abortion. This is a sad reality in the context of the fact that for many women who have abortions, the procedure is the last thing which they actually want.
Legal coercion protections provide a process to ensure that women are not being coerced by their partner, family, friends, or others to have an abortion. The sad reality about abortion is that in some cases women who don’t want abortions are put under intense pressure to have one, with the people who should be supporting them using intimidation, threats and even driving them to the abortion clinic.
The proposed framework does not mention the introduction of any specific legal provisions to require those providing abortions to ensure that the women is not being coerced.
This is especially concerning given that there will also be no legal requirement that doctors are involved in the abortion process and there will be no legal restrictions on locations where abortions can take place.
Paired with a lack of legal coercion protections this could create an environment where it would be much easier for third parties to coerce women into having an abortion.
14. Private abortion clinics’ horrific history of abuses could likely be worse in NI with no legal restrictions
Abortion providers, such as Maries Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service will likely seek to capitalise on the opening of a major new market without all the current legal safeguards they have to adhere to in England and Wales. There will likely see a surge in the building of new, private abortion clinics throughout the province.
These private abortion clinics in England and Wales have proven that they cannot be trusted. The following are just a few examples of when these clinics have been caught out:
- In August 2016, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) suspended some abortions at Marie Stopes for a month in August 2016 after inspectors “found dead foetuses lying in an open bin and staff trying to give a vulnerable, visibly distressed woman an abortion without her consent”.
- A December 2016 report revealed doctors had been bulk-signing abortion consent forms, women were left at risk of infection, staff were not trained in how to respond to deteriorating patients and post-surgery safety checks were being completed before the surgery started. Issues have also been recorded at BPAS abortion clinics.
- In a damning report from 2017, inspectors found evidence of a policy at all 70 Marie Stopes clinics, which saw staff calling women who had decided against having an abortion to offer them another appointment. The report also outlined “doctors signing off consent forms in batches of 60 and failures to follow safety procedures.”
- An investigation by a national newspaper revealed that practices that concerned CQC inspectors are continuing at Marie Stopes clinics, with, for example, abortions being signed off by call centre workers with no medical training after discussions which were as short as 22 seconds.
- In 2012, a woman called Aisha Chithira, 32, bled to death in a taxi after having an abortion in Ealing Marie Stopes. A Marie Stopes doctor and two nurses were charged and then acquitted of gross negligence manslaughter.
If these kind of breaches in patient safety protocols are occurring under the current law in England and Wales, without many of the restrictions on abortions in place in Northern Ireland, it is possible that the treatment of women by these abortion providers will be much worse.
15. More difficult to prosecute men who slip abortion pills into a woman’s food
In cases where, for example, a woman’s partner puts abortion pills in her food or drink without her knowledge, he can be prosecuted under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA).
In order to introduce abortion to Northern Ireland, it is precisely these sections of the OAPA that MPs in Westminster voted to repeal. It has now become more difficult to prosecute someone who engages in a non-consensual abortion of this kind.
The proposed framework does not mention the introduction of new provisions to ensure that the same protections provided by the OAPA in these circumstances are provided in the new framework.
For example, in 2008, a man was convicted under s. 58 of OAPA for putting abortion pills in his wife’s sandwich. Without sections 58 and 59 of OAPA, such prosecutions would be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring.
Even if they could be prosecuted under the poisoning offences (sections 23 and 24 of the OAPA) the maximum sentence, 5 years, would be lower than what is available under sections 58 and 59.
In any event, such alternative prosecutions fail to take into account that there are two victims of the poisoning/non-consensual abortion: the woman and her child.
16. The State will have the authority to force women to have abortions
In June, a woman in her early 20s with a learning disability was ordered by the Court of Protection in England to have an abortion against her will. This ruling was only overturned in a last-minute Court of Appeal decision which stopped doctors from performing an abortion – that was already underway – on a woman who wanted her baby.
The proposed framework does not mention the introduction of any safeguards to prevent the State from being able to exercise this same draconian power over its citizens in Northern Ireland.
17. No provision for independent counselling for women seeking abortion
The proposed framework does not mention any legal requirement that abortion providers – who benefit financially from providing an abortion – are not the ones providing ‘counselling’ to women seeking an abortion.
This is especially concerning given that one of the big abortion providers in England and Wales, Marie Stopes International, were accused by the Care Quality Commission of paying staff bonuses to increase abortion numbers.
It is clear that these providers can NOT be trusted to provide counselling that is not biased, but there would be no legal requirement mandating independent counselling to ensure that this conflict of interest would not occur.
18. Abortion on-demand will cost Northern Ireland £5 million a year
The introduction of abortion to Northern Ireland will likely cost £5m a year – putting “strain” on an “already over-stretched health service”, a senior economist has warned.
Dr Esmond Birnie said amid the “big moral issues”, it would be “naive to forget a public expenditure cost” from the changes Parliament has proposed.
“This will strain the already over-stretched health service… this is money which will not be available to spend on mental health services or reducing waiting lists.” 72% of NHS abortions in England and Wales are now undertaken in the private sector and paid for by the taxpayer. The majority of these abortions are done by Marie Stopes and BPAS. These abortion providers will likely make huge financial gains as they exploit this new market, picking up more taxpayer money for their operations.
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