Large group of cross-party MPs raise concerns over abortion regime imposed on Northern Ireland

The Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker, has been questioned over the extreme abortion regime the UK Government has imposed on the province.

Urgent questions were raised just two days after MLAs at the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion opposing the extreme measures, and just ahead of a House of Commons vote on the regulations later this month.

No obligation to impose extreme abortion regime

Starting the debate, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP said now that the Northern Ireland Assembly had been restored for almost five months it would be wrong for the UK parliament to proceed with imposing its extreme abortion regulations on the province.

Highlighting Tuesday’s Northern Ireland Assembly vote, in which MLAs rejected the extreme abortion regime by a clear majority, the DUP MP said: “The will of the people of Northern Ireland has spoken.”

He went even further and questioned whether the UK Government is, as it claims, under any legal obligation to impose the regulations, saying: “Having taken legal advice, at the highest level, I discover that the law is not at all clear on this and that there is actually as good a legal argument that the Government is under no such obligation.”

He adds: “In this regard, and of huge importance, I note the submissions to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee from two QCs who also argue the Secretary of State is under no obligation to press these regulations to a vote” and to do so would “breach the devolution settlement and cause a constitutional crisis of the Government’s own making”.

In his closing remarks, Jeffrey says the regulations are discriminatory as they permit abortion up to birth on the grounds of non-fatal disabilities, and should be rejected.

He quotes disability campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome and is challenging the UK’s discriminatory abortion law, who said: “I would now call on the Government not to ask MPs and peers to vote for regulations that contain discriminatory provisions that tell people like me that we should not exist.”

The people of Northern Ireland have been ignored

Jim Shannon MP echoed the concerns raised by fellow DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and asked Robin Walker MP why the UK Government is pushing ahead with abortion regulations after they’ve previously stated it is a devolved issue and should be debated by the devolved assembly.

Highlighting that the majority of consultation responses on the extreme regulations were opposed to any further provision of abortion in Northern Ireland, Jim Shannon said: “The people of Northern Ireland have spoken in a largely ignored consultation process.”

He closed his speech by urging the Minister to let Northern Ireland representatives and the people of Northern Ireland decide its own abortion regulations.

The Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker, claimed he had “great sympathy” for Jim Shannon’s concerns but said, due to the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the UK Government had obligations to deliver abortion in Northern Ireland. 

He added the Northern Ireland Assembly could reform and take on the regulations. 

Profound lack of respect for the people of Northern Ireland

Fiona Bruce MP says progressing with these regulations now that Stormont has returned, and following Tuesday’s vote to reject them, would show a profound lack of respect to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives. 

She adds that the “rushed” manner in which the regulations came about has thrown up “deep flaws”.

Describing one of these “deep flaws” the Conservative MP said: “Sex-selective abortion is now lawful here. It has been described by the Government here as abhorrent, yet the Northern Ireland regulations allow abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks, with no prohibition on sex-selective abortions.”

She added that, as it is now possible to tell the sex of an unborn child between 7 and 10 weeks, women could seek an abortion purely on the basis of sex and even travel to the UK, from Northern Ireland, seeking a sex-selective abortion.  

Concluding her speech, Fiona Bruce asked Robin Walker: “Does the minister think this parliament really intended this and doesn’t it show why these rushed regulations should be scrapped and the issue properly returned to Stormont?”

Robin Walker dismissed Fiona’s concerns on sex-selective abortion and said the regulations make no refenece to sex-selective abortions and follows the same approach as the UK on this issue. 

However, as abortion will be available on-demand, without certification, through to 12-weeks (2.1.2) women could have a sex-selective termination up to 12 weeks, which is different to the law in England, Wales and Scotland.

Regulations go further than required

DUP MP Ian Paisley brought attention to some of the many ways the extreme abortion regulations go further than what was required of the Conservative Government, when it imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland.

He argued that nowhere in the CEDAW report does it state the Government should introduce sex-selective terminations and disability-selective abortions, in some cases right up to birth, particularly against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

Ian Paisley said that giving back control to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland is the “democratic thing to do, the right thing to do, and the appropriate thing to do.” 

Both Ian Paisley and Conservative MP Danny Kruger mentioned that Stella Creasy, the MP responsible for putting forward the amendment which requires the UK Government to implement abortion in Northern Ireland, said that if the assembly is functioning, this wouldn’t be the right way forward.  

Bob Stewart MP said he was under the impression that these regulations were “no more liberal than in the rest of Great Britain”, but expressed concern that this is not the case following comments made by other MPs during the urgent question session.

Robin Walker claimed the extreme abortion regime in Northern Ireland was consistent with the law in the rest of the UK, but Right To Life UK has found some glaring inconsistencies – including and abortion being routinely allowed in GP surgeries across the province. 

‘Most liberal abortion laws in Europe’

DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who has an early day motion supporting Fiona Bruce’s Bill against disability-selective abortion for cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot, raised concerns that the UK Government’s regulations cause great offence to those with disabilities.

The pro-life MP, who used her maiden speech as an MP to defend the right to life of unborn babies, said: “This Government, whether, we like it or not is continuing to ride roughshod over the devolved administration in Northern Ireland. It is discriminating against people who have non-fatal disabilities, and is going far beyond its legal requirement and has implemented the most liberal abortion laws in the whole of Europe.

“Will the Minister of State recognise the severe offence these regulations pose to people with disabilities, but also the clear will of the devolved institutions is that these regulations are not wanted in Northern Ireland?”

Carla Lockhart also questioned Robin Walker over what he would say to Heidi Crowter, a disability campaigner with Down’s syndrome, who said she feels like she shouldn’t exist in this society if the extreme regulations in Northern Ireland go ahead.

The Upper Bann MP said: “Both lives matter. It is not just about the woman’s health, it is about both lives.

“It is not the right of this Government to implement such liberal abortion laws on Northern Ireland that will see abortion up to birth for disability.”

Robin Walker said Carla spoke very powerfully on the issue but said it wasn’t up to the UK Government to list specific conditions for which an abortion is available, but said it was an “individual decision for women” to make following medical assessments and clear support from medical professionals and others.

‘All lives matter and all lives have an intrinsic value’

Conservative MP Scott Benton also recognised the concerns of Heidi Crowter, and other people with disabilities, saying: “this House has a responsibility to send out a clear signal that all lives matter and all lives have an intrinsic human value.”

Addressing the Minister for Northern Ireland, he said: “listening to Heidi’s account will the Government not reconsider these regulations and ensure they don’t allow abortion on the grounds of non-fatal abnormalities.”

Robin Walker again said the decision to have a disability-selectibve abortion would be an “individual’s decision based on proper medical assessments and advice”the same current advice allows for cleft lip abortions up to birth in the UK

Undermining devolution 

Labour MP Rachel Maskell said that proceeding with these regulations would undermine the devolution settlement and asked Robin Walker why he wouldn’t enable the Northern Ireland Assembly to move this legislation forward. 

Robin Walker claimed the Northern Ireland Assembly could reform and take on the regulations, but only after they’d been implemented by the UK Government.

MPs and Peers at the UK Parliament are due to vote later this month on whether to approve or reject regulations that introduce an extreme abortion regime to Northern Ireland.

Whilst the vote at the Northern Ireland Assembly will not directly change the law in Northern Ireland, it has sent a very strong message to the UK Government, MPs and Peers at Westminster that Northern Ireland reject these regulations being imposed on the province. 

This will make it much more difficult for MPs and Peers to vote to impose these regulations on Northern Ireland when they have been resoundingly rejected by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

If MPs and Peers vote down the redrafted regulations, the UK Government will then be forced to draft the regulations for a third time to be either less extreme or bring forward legislation allowing parliament to vote on revoking the regulations. The second of those options would give back control to the people of Northern Ireland through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Northern Ireland Assembly votes to reject Westminster imposed abortion regulations

The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed a motion opposing the extreme abortion regime which had been imposed on the province by the UK Government.

New abortion regulations were drawn up by Westminster last year in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. They came into force in March.

But, yesterday, MLAs voted to reject the extreme abortion regulations by 46 votes to 40.

The motion, was tabled in response to Heidi Crowter, the 24-year-old disability campaigner, who has spoken out against the proposal of the UK Government to impose on Northern Ireland abortion up to birth in cases of disabilities like Heidi’s own, Down’s syndrome.

In proposing the motion MLA Joanne Bunting referred to how Heidi said the law was “offensive and hurtful”.

Ms Bunting added that, as Heidi argued, the law was clearly saying “that people with Down’s syndrome or other disabilities are of less value that people with without disabilities”.

Welcoming the outcome of the debate, DUP MLA Paul Givan said: “The Assembly has now rejected these extreme abortion regulations on the basis of how they discriminate against the unborn especially those with disabilities.”

He added: “The regulations imposed by Westminster have led to Northern Ireland having the most liberal abortion regime in Europe.

“This approach undermined the devolution settlement, but worst of all facilitated the ending of so many precious lives. That is something that the majority of people here in Northern Ireland are against.”

MPs and Peers at the UK Parliament are due to vote later this month on whether to approve or reject regulations that introduce an extreme abortion regime to Northern Ireland.

Whilst the vote at the Northern Ireland Assembly will not directly change the law in Northern Ireland, it has sent a very strong message to the UK Government, MPs and Peers at Westminster that Northern Ireland reject these regulations being imposed on the province. 

This will make it much more difficult for MPs and Peers to vote to impose these regulations on Northern Ireland when they have been resoundingly rejected by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

If MPs and Peers vote down the redrafted regulations later this month, the UK Government will then be forced to draft the regulations for a third time to be either less extreme or bring forward legislation allowing parliament to vote on revoking the regulations. The second of those options would give back control to the people of Northern Ireland through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Polling organised by the University of Liverpool and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council has shown that 58% of Sinn Féin voters and 54% of DUP voters want their country’s new abortion framework to only allow abortions when the mother’s life is at risk. Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through to 24 weeks, which is in line with what the Government has introduced to Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Tonight’s vote has made it clear that the UK Government must urgently hand back this devolved matter to the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland at the Assembly.

“The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose these extreme regulations on Northern Ireland. 

79% of respondents to the Government consultation on these regulations were opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond what was previously permitted. 

“Polling shows the majority of Sinn Féin and DUP voters want their country’s new abortion framework to only allow abortions when the mother’s life is at risk. Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through to 24 weeks, which is in line with what the Government will be introducing to Northern Ireland. This polling shows a clear rejection from the people of Northern Ireland for the UK Government’s regulations. If the devolution settlement of Stormont is to be respected, the cross-community view against this extreme abortion framework must be respected.

“With Stormont having been restored for over five months, it is vital that the people of Northern Ireland have a say on their country’s new abortion framework through their elected representatives in the Northern Irish Assembly. It’s time to end this blatant undermining of devolution and hand back control on this devolved issue to Northern Ireland.” 

Voted in favour of the motion 🙂

  • Andy Allen, UUP
  • Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice
  • Rosemary Barton, UUP
  • Paula Bradley, DUP
  • Maurice Bradley, DUP
  • Sinéad Bradley, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Thomas Buchanan, DUP
  • Keith Buchanan, DUP
  • Jonathan Buckley, DUP
  • Joanne Bunting, DUP
  • Robbie Butler, UUP
  • Pam Cameron, DUP
  • Pat Catney, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Alan Chambers, UUP
  • Trevor Clarke, DUP
  • Diane Dodds, DUP
  • Gordon Dunne, DUP
  • Mark Durkan, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Alex Easton, DUP
  • Arlene Foster, DUP
  • Paul Frew, DUP
  • Paul Givan, DUP
  • Harry Harvey, DUP
  • David Hilditch, DUP
  • William Humphrey, DUP
  • William Irwin, DUP
  • Dolores Kelly, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Gordon Lyons, DUP
  • Chris Lyttle, Alliance
  • Nichola Mallon, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Daniel McCrossan, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Patsy McGlone, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Colin McGrath, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Michelle McIlveen, DUP
  • Justin McNulty, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Gary Middleton, DUP
  • Mike Nesbitt, UUP
  • Robin Newton, DUP
  • Edwin Poots, DUP
  • George Robinson, DUP
  • Christopher Stalford, DUP
  • John Stewart, UUP
  • Mervyn Storey, DUP
  • Robin Swann, UUP
  • Peter Weir, DUP
  • Jim Wells, Independent Unionist

Voted against the motion 🙁

  • Kellie Armstrong, Alliance
  • John Blair, Alliance
  • Paula Bradshaw, Alliance
  • Stewart Dickson, Alliance
  • Naomi Long, Alliance
  • Trevor Lunn, Independent
  • Andrew Muir, Alliance
  • Clare Bailey, Green
  • Rachel Woods, Green
  • Claire Sugden, Independent
  • Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance
  • Caoimhe Archibald, Sinn Féin
  • Cathal Boylan, Sinn Féin
  • Linda Dillon, Sinn Féin
  • Jemma Dolan, Sinn Féin
  • Sinéad Ennis, Sinn Féin
  • Órlaithí Flynn, Sinn Féin
  • Colm Gildernew, Sinn Féin
  • Deisre Hargey, Sinn Féin
  • Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin
  • Catherine Kelly, Sinn Féin
  • Liz Kimmins, Sinn Féin
  • Sean Lynch, Sinn Féin
  • Declan McAleer, Sinn Féin
  • Fra McCann, Sinn Féin
  • Philip McGuigan, Sinn Féin
  • Maolíosa McHugh, Sinn Féin
  • Karen Mullan, Sinn Féin
  • Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin
  • Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin
  • John O’Dowd, Sinn Féin
  • Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin
  • Emma Rogan, Sinn Féin
  • Pat Sheehan, Sinn Féin
  • Emma Sheerin, Sinn Féin
  • Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin
  • Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin
  • Sinead McLaughlin, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Matthew O’Toole, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Steve Aiken, UUP

Abstained

  • Cara Hunter, Social Democratic and Labour Party

Northern Ireland’s oldest man with Down’s syndrome throws support behind pro-life motion

A man believed to be Northern Ireland’s oldest person with Down’s syndrome has thrown his support behind a motion calling on MLAs to oppose abortion up to birth for those prenatally diagnosed with the condition.

George McCullagh, whose parents were told he wouldn’t survive past his teenage years, has defied the odds to celebrate his 76th birthday today.

Now, he and his family have declared their support for the pro-life motion tabled by DUP MLAs Paul Givan and Joanne Bunting.

George’s sister, Elaine, told Paul: “We love our ‘wee brother’ and he has brought us so much love and joy. He, himself, has had a great life.”

Tomorrow, the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on a motion that, if voted for, will highlight the Assembly’s opposition to the UK Government’s plans to introduce abortion on the basis of Down’s syndrome.

It states: “That this Assembly welcomes the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome.”

The motion has been tabled in response to Heidi Crowter, the 24-year-old disability campaigner, who spoke out against the proposal of the British Government to impose abortion up to birth in cases of disabilities like her own, Down’s syndrome.

Heidi wrote to Party Leaders at Stormont, asking them to take the lead and do everything they can to oppose abortion on the basis of disability up until birth.

She said: “Please do not let a law come into practice which will end lives on the basis of disability and stop people like me coming into the world.”

While the motion will not change the law if it passes, it will demonstrate to Heidi and other people with Down’s syndrome that Northern Ireland’s elected officials oppose any move to allow babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted up until birth.

This will send a very important message to MPs in Westminster that Northern Ireland does not want the extreme abortion regime imposed on them from the UK Parliament and Conservative Government.

The new regime, which also allows de facto abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks and disability abortion right up to birth, came into force as law on 31 March.

Despite 79% of consultation respondents stating opposition to changes in Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation, the UK Government went far beyond what was legally required of them when they imposed radical changes to the law governing terminations in the province.

MPs and Peers will vote on the extreme abortion regulations at some point before 19 June.

If MPs vote down the redrafted regulations, the Government will then be forced to draft the regulations for a third time to be either less extreme or bring forward legislation allowing parliament to vote on revoking the regulations.

The second of those options would give back control to the people of Northern Ireland through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In April, an influential House of Lords committee released a highly critical report raising significant concerns over the Government’s approach in imposing the extreme abortion regime. 

In his submission to the committee, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General said that the UK Government exceeded its powers as it radically changed abortion law in the province.

John Larkin QC said: “This is of political and legal significance and, given that the relevant judgement call is best made by a local legislature, it may be inappropriate for the provision to have been so limited in light of the changed political context.”

The Attorney General also told the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee it was “disproportionate” to require healthcare professionals in any capacity “to act contrary to their conscience” and that it “would have been possible” for Westminster to introduce broader conscience protections.

In addition, earlier this month, Northern Ireland peer Baroness Nuala O’Loan called on Northern Ireland residents to “make their voices heard” and demand the new extreme abortion regime regulations are not approved.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“We’d like to wish George McCullagh a very happy 76th birthday full of the love and joy he brings to others.

“We’re thankful for this motion, brought by Paul Givan and Joanne Bunting, which will finally break the silence at Stormont tomorrow after MLAs found time to debate bikes before the lives of unborn babies.

“If you live in Northern Ireland, please write to your local MLAs asking them to seek an urgent debate and vote on a resolution to this matter, distancing Northern Ireland from Whitehall’s profoundly ill-conceived abortion disability proposal.”

“If you have already emailed your MLA, please encourage more friends and family to write to their MLAs.”

Time to debate bikes but not Westminster forcing abortion for Down’s syndrome up to birth on NI, MLAs ignore pleas of thousands

Thousands of people are demanding members of the Northern Ireland Assembly hold an urgent debate and vote on abortion law to show they reject abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome and other disabilities.

It comes after the Assembly found time to debate regulations relating to electric pedal cycles but have, so far, not found time to distance itself from the Conservative Government’s extreme abortion regime.

On 12 May, six weeks after the regime came into effect, MLAs debated and voted in favour of allowing electric bikes on Northern Ireland roads but are yet to discuss abortion.

Disability advocacy campaigners are now questioning the priorities of their local representatives saying the right to life of unborn babies should be debated before bikes.

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, the UK Parliament voted to impose abortion on the province.

Although 79% of consultation respondents stating opposition to any changes in Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation, the Conservative Government announced on 25 March they would impose an extreme abortion regime on the province.

Last week, the UK Government reaffirmed its commitment to those changes despite significant criticism the radical changes go far beyond what is legally required of them.

A parliamentary vote on the extreme abortion regime is expected by 22 June.

Despite now meeting two days a week and having found time to debate electric pedal cycles, the Assembly still hasn’t found time to debate abortion.

One of those calling for a debate is Heidi Crowter, the 24-year-old disability campaigner, with Down’s syndrome.

She wrote to MLAs last week asking them to take a lead and do everything they can to oppose “hurtful and offensive” laws allowing discriminatory disability-selective abortions up to the point of birth.

In her letter, Heidi said: “Boris Johnson’s Government did not have to introduce abortion for babies with Down’s syndrome up to birth to Northern Ireland. They chose to do this.

“That’s both hurtful and offensive. My life has as much value as anyone else’s.

“I am asking all MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) to reject Westminster’s regulations – please don’t vote for more discrimination against people like me.”

She added: “Do not make the mistake which was made in Great Britain in allowing discrimination against people like me just because we happen to have Down’s syndrome.

“Please let Northern Ireland continue to be a country where disabled people are valued.

“Please do not let a law come into practice which will end lives on the basis of disability and stop people like me coming into the world.”

Prior to Northern Ireland’s extreme abortion regime coming into effect, the province embraced a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability, rather than eliminating them.

This is reflected directly in figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while 52 children with Down’s syndrome were born, in 2016, in the same year only 1 child with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.

In contrast, in England and Wales, the latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

Additionally, last year it was revealed pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision – even at 38 weeks’ gestation.

Disability campaigners are now fearful the same disregard for the life of disabled children could soon become commonplace in Northern Ireland if discriminatory disability-selective abortions become law permanently.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“The Northern Ireland Assembly is supposed to represent the voice of the people of Northern Ireland.

“Yet, their silence on this matter to date has been deafening.

“The majority of those in Northern Ireland are opposed to any permanent change in abortion law and would rather see MLAs debate babies before bikes. 

“Please write to your local MLAs asking them to seek an urgent debate and vote on a resolution to this matter, distancing Northern Ireland from Whitehall’s profoundly ill-conceived abortion disability proposal.”