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Peers grill Government over NI minister abortion powers

A large group of Peers has grilled the Conservative Government whip, Viscount Younger of Leckie, over the Northern Ireland (Abortion) Regulations Bill 2021, which will grant the NI Secretary sweeping new powers to impose expanded abortion on Northern Ireland through the commissioning of abortion services.  

This came after the 26 April debate in which MPs voted by 431 to 89 to approve the new regulations. 

Lack of public consultation

An amendment to the regulations was moved by Baroness O’Loan, which proposed a rejection of the regulations on the basis that the Northern Ireland Assembly is now sitting and the matter is devolved to that legislature. The amendment outlined that enacting the new regulation would undermine the devolution settlement in respect of education as well as abortion policy.

Baroness O’Loan highlighted the lack of “public consultation on the Regulations”, given that they were laid shortly before Parliament’s Easter recess, which prevented the House from considering them before they took effect.

Not internationally obligated

Lord Morrow, who tabled an amendment that also focused on the regulation’s threat to devolution, added “100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today who would not have been had we embraced the Abortion Act in 1967 along with the other jurisdictions in GB”.

“It was argued [in July 2019] that Parliament was duty-bound to pass the amendment that became Section 9 because Northern Ireland was in violation of international human rights convention obligations under CEDAW and the recommendations of the 2018 committee report on Northern Ireland”.

“The Government now confirm[s] that paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW committee report do not constitute legally binding international obligations”.

Disability discrimination

Lord Shinkwin, who was himself born with the brittle bone disease osteogenesis imperfecta, spoke powerfully on the issue of disability discrimination in the case of abortion time limits within the regulations.

“That is ultimately what the regulations are about: death for disability—in other words, state-sanctioned, state-sponsored lethal disability discrimination”.

“…despite the immense sacrifices of my grandparents’ generation, who fought and died in the war, the eugenicist poison that informed Adolf Hitler’s Aktion T4 euthanasia programme against disabled human beings is now informing government policy and being imposed on the people of Northern Ireland”.

Undermining devolution

‘Pro-choice’ peer Baroness Fox said that while she “look[ed] at the abortion arrangements that they allow for women in Northern Ireland with some envy…the imposition of these regulations by Westminster decree without consent—indeed, in flagrant defiance of a rejection of these regulations by democratically elected Northern Ireland politicians—is an obvious flouting of democracy”.

Baroness Hoey similarly argued that “Today’s debate is not about abortion: it is about allowing a devolved Government to make their own decision on a devolved matter”.

The value of every life

Lord McCrea argued that not only would the regulations “throw a hand grenade into the fragile structures of devolution” but that “[o]ver these past years, we have spent billions to save life, yet in this one-and-a-half-hour debate we are being asked to sanction the killing of the unborn child”. 

Lord Dodds, who is himself the father of a child born with a disability, spoke powerfully: “I entirely understand what he [Lord McCrea] said. I have spoken to, and been friendly with, many families with children with disabilities. They have found their family lives richly rewarding and speak powerfully to the value of every life”. 

Lord Taylor affirmed his view that life begins “from the moment of conception”, and added “… A womb is not a tomb…”

“Abortion, in the dictionary, means abandonment, death, destruction, expulsion, cancellation, rescission, revocation and feticide—cold, hard, final words which cannot be reversed”.

What happens next?

Following this vote in the House of Lords, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, will now decide whether or not to proceed with using his new powers to impose expanded abortion access on Northern Ireland.

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.