Press release: Abortion amendment to Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill constitutionally inappropriate

7 July 2019 – A group of MPs have brought forward a number of abortion amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill which will proceed through all Commons stages early this week (8/9 July). These amendments appear to be designed to attempt to introduce abortion to Northern Ireland.

There is also the potential that additional manuscript amendments could be accepted by the speaker on Tuesday. Based on past amendments brought forward on this issue by abortion advocates, it is possible that a manuscript amendment could be seeking to remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against The Person Act which would introduce abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks to Northern Ireland. This would also result in widespread changes to abortion legislation in England and Wales, removing almost all legal safeguards around abortion in England and Wales.

There is also the potential that amendments could be accepted by the speaker on the day. Based on past amendments brought forward on this issue by abortion advocates, it is possible that a manuscript amendment could be seeking to remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against The Person Act which would introduce abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks to Northern Ireland. This would also result in widespread changes to abortion legislation in England and Wales, removing almost all legal safeguards around abortion in England and Wales.

This would leave Northern Ireland, England, and Wales with one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world and they would be out of line with legislation in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

The change would potentially lead to significant numbers coming across the border for abortions from the Republic of Ireland where, post-referendum, abortion is restricted in most cases to 12 weeks gestation. It is also possible that there would be traffic from a number of other countries in Europe as the median gestational time limit for most abortion among EU countries is 12 weeks

Polling from ComRes shows that 66% of women and 70% of 18-34 year olds in Northern Ireland do not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.

Polling released by Both Lives Matter last year also showed a huge majority – 72% – of Conservative MPs are against devolution being undermined by imposing abortion laws on Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has considered the issue of abortion much more recently than any other parliament in the United Kingdom. In 2016, a clear majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including both Unionists and Nationalists, upheld the law on abortion as it currently stands.

Right To Life UK are encouraging constituents in Britain and Northern Ireland to contact their MPs and ask them to vote against the amendments next Tuesday. Constituents can do this by visiting: https://righttolife.org.uk/take-action-abortion-amendment/ 

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Clare McCarthy said:

The law on this issue should be a decision for the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives. 

It is totally constitutionally inappropriate to bring forward abortion amendment to a Bill which has nothing to do with abortion in any way, to legislate on such a sensitive matter. No consultation on this amendment will be possible. The people of Northern Ireland will have next to no opportunity to voice their opinions.

Westminster must respect the principle and spirit of devolution and ensure the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives get to decide on what law and policy should apply in that jurisdiction.

Two-thirds of women in Northern Ireland think that Westminster should not impose abortion laws on Northern Ireland. Any imposition of abortion law on Northern Ireland from Westminster would undermine devolution and the Good Friday Agreement.

“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. Westminster has no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to make any changes to Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion.

ENDS

  • For additional quotes and media interviews contact Clare McCarthy on (078 336 61532) or email press@righttolife.org.uk
  • A full briefing is available here: https://righttolife.org.uk/news/parliamentary-briefing-abortion-amendment-to-northern-ireland-executive-formation-bill/
  • ComRes interviewed 1,013 Northern Irish adults online between 8th and 15th October 2018. Data was weighted to be representative of all Northern Irish adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  • The full report on the 100,000 lives figure is available here: https://bothlivesmatter.org/statistics
  • Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley stated in the Houses of Parliament (September 5, 2018) that:
    • “Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and this means it is only right that questions of laws and policy on abortion, including the legality of any medicines, are decided by a devolved government.”
  • Deputy chair of the Conservative party James Cleverly has spoken out about abortion and devolution:
    • “You can’t claim to respect NI devolution but then demand that it be ignored because an issue is ‘important’,” he said. “The sensitivity about saying ‘the Republic of Ireland have done it so Northern Ireland should do it too’ cannot be overstated either.”
  • Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party has also warned against imposing abortion laws on Northern Ireland:
    • “If I was a politician in Northern Ireland, I would absolutely 100% vote to change the law. But as someone who operates in a devolved administration, I know how angry I would be if the House of Commons legislated on a domestic Scottish issue over the head of Holyrood”.
  • In a House of Commons debate (June 5, 2018) SNP MP Deirdre Brock MP said:
    • “Likewise, the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter and is an issue for the people of the Northern Ireland and the people they elect to the Assembly. It is a matter devolved and, frankly, it matters not a jot whether the decisions made at Stormont, when it is sitting, are agreeable to Members sitting here. That is the point of devolution, a point that some Members of this place have been spectacularly slow to appreciate at times. The decisions of devolved Administrations are taken for reasons that people in those devolved nations understand from their point of view, and they are taken using evidence that the people, politicians and policymakers of those devolved nations consider important.”