The Conservative Government in Westminster is set to use Parliament to give the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland new powers to allow him to force the Northern Ireland Department of Health to expand abortion access across the province through the commissioning of abortion services.
The UK Government and various pro-abortion advocacy groups have been pressuring the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann to commission abortion procedures across the region since the start of this year when one of the five NHS trusts was unable to perform abortions because a doctor was on maternity leave.
The DUP, however, has said they would “vigorously oppose” further legislative action on abortion. The DUP’s leader in Westminster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, warned that any move to legislate over the Stormont executive would “raise serious questions” and would be a “very serious breach of the devolution settlement”.
Abortion is a devolved matter
Donaldson said that he and the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, met the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, over the matter on Thursday.
Donaldson said: “Abortion is a devolved matter […] Any move by a [Northern Ireland] minister to legislate over the head of the Northern Ireland executive would raise serious questions about when and in what areas the government can make interventions in a devolved administration”.
Donaldson has also warned that Westminster’s actions should be a concern even for those who support abortion, saying people “should recognise the danger of what the secretary of state is doing here” and “if he can do it on this, then it could happen on many other areas”.
Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland meaning that it is for the local Parliament to pass legislation, and not for the Government in Westminster. However, in 2019, pro-abortion politicians, such as Stella Creasy MP, took advantage of long-standing disagreements about the sharing of power in Northern Ireland in order to impose abortion on the region.
The UK Government looks set to continue that precedent of ignoring established norms concerning devolved matters and impose further abortion regulations on Northern Ireland, but this time when there is a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly.
Reports suggest that the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis MP, will lay new regulations in Parliament next week to let him direct the Northern Ireland Department of Health to expand abortion access in the region.
Lewis tweeted last week that he would “welcome a renewed focus on the NI Executive securing the abortion services that women and girls are legally and morally entitled to. We should all take our obligations on this issue incredibly seriously – it is a human right to be able to access quality healthcare”.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann has continued to argue that, as a controversial issue, it is the task of the Executive to agree to set up the services and not the responsibility of any one department.
‘Ramp up of the number of abortions in the North of Ireland’
However, there is widespread opposition to further Westminster interference on this matter from both the public and other parties in Northern Ireland.
The Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill has just passed its second stage at the Northern Ireland Assembly by 48 votes to 12. The Bill, launched by Paul Givan MLA, will provide protections for babies in the womb with disabilities, who currently can be aborted up to term.
Over 27,000 people have signed a petition in support of the Bill and 1,608 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signed an open letter to party leaders in Northern Ireland urging them to support the Bill.
Furthermore, another party in Northern Ireland, Aontú, has accused Sinn Féin of trying to “ramp up […] the number of abortions in the North of Ireland” through its support of abortion expansion in the region.
A party representative said that it is “heartbreaking for many nationalists” that Sinn Féin now opposes the 1916 Easter Proclamation vow to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’.
Officials estimated that the region could see up to 6,500 terminations annually.
According to information gained from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, health officials in Northern Ireland met in December 2019 to discuss how many abortions the region should expect if abortion services were commissioned after Westminster voted to impose abortion on the region in July 2019.
According to notes from the meeting: “Service needs to be scaleable [sic] (if service take-up reaches […] England and Wales levels that figure could be 6,500).”
Since March last year, when the new abortion regime came into force, 1,091 abortions took place in Northern Ireland.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The Conservative Government, which claims to take a neutral stance on abortion, is basically working to give the Northern Ireland secretary the power to directly undermine devolution to force more abortion on Northern Ireland. This is while there is a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been elected by the people of Northern Ireland, to make decisions on devolved matters including abortion. If this goes ahead, this extraordinary move is essentially direct rule from Westminster”.
It appears that abortion advocates in the Northern Ireland Office are more than willing to ignore precedent and established relations between Stormont and Westminster in their pursuit of abortion expansion, no matter what the cost”.
“The passing of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill by such an overwhelming majority of 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, abortion fanatics in the Government are hardly likely to let a trifle like ‘the will of the people’ and ‘respect for sovereignty’ to get in the way of their plans to expand abortion access at all costs”.