Lord Shinkwin accused a Government Bill which would force abortion on Northern Ireland of telling people with disabilities that they are “better off dead.”
In a debate in the House of Lords surrounding the Government’s attempt to force abortion on Northern Ireland, Lord Kevin Shinkwin asked whether the supporters of the abortion amendment had considered the message this Bill sends to people with disabilities: that they are “better off dead”.
Abortion law in England and Wales permits abortion up until the 24 week of pregnancy in normal circumstances, but if the unborn baby has a disability, abortion is permitted up until the birth of the child. A number of recent incidents show mothers are being heavily pressured to have abortions when their child is diagnosed with a disability.
In Northern Ireland, however the pro-life laws mean unborn children with disabilities are equally respected in law. The Lord highlighted the disparity in the rate of Downs Syndrome based abortions where in England and Wales, approximately 90% of all children diagnosed with Downs Syndrome in the womb are aborted.
“[In Northern Ireland] 52 children with Down’s syndrome were born in 2016, in the same year only one child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.”
“Is that not a cause for celebration? Is it not to Northern Ireland’s immense credit that disability equality is actually respected there?”
Addressing the Minister he said: “How does he reconcile the [Disability Discrimination] Act’s acknowledgement of the right of disabled human beings to be equal, to contribute to society and to be respected with the message of the Bill, which is that if you are born with a disability, as I was, you are better off dead?”
Lord Shinkwin who was himself born with a disability, has long campaigned for the rights of disabled persons and objects to this Bill on the grounds of its “lethal discrimination” against people with disabilities.
Commenting on the outgoing Prime Minister’s concern that she leave a strong legacy, without “burning injustice”, Lord Shinkwin said:
““I will therefore take the opportunity to urge her not to create a burning injustice by allowing the abortion of human beings diagnosed before birth with conditions such as mine to be part of that message.
“If she does, no one in my party should be surprised if disabled people and their families think that the Conservative Party hates us and believes that we would be better off dead.”
The debate in the House of Lords took place as the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is being fast-tracked through both houses of Parliament in little over a week, when normally legislation such as this can take several months. The Bill has been heavily criticised for refusing to follow ordinary parliamentary procedure and having no time for full parliamentary or public scrutiny.
MPs from Northern Ireland have also been particularly vocal about how this Bill undermines the devolved powers of Northern Ireland, which retains the authority to make its own abortion law independently of Westminster.
Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:
“Lord Shinkwin is right to emphasise the impact this will have on people with disabilities who are already heavily discriminated against in the rest of the UK, where they can be aborted up to birth, compared with normal cases where abortion is available up until 24 weeks.”
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the life of an unborn child with a disability is treated as having the same dignity and worth as every other child. If abortion is forced on Northern Ireland, it is likely that disabled children will be discriminated against in the same fashion as they are in the rest of the UK. This is not the mark of a civilised society.”
Full text of Lord Shinkwin’s speech:
My Lords, I support Amendment 23 and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for persevering despite her sore throat and inspiring those of us who support the amendment. I support it because I believe it underlines our respect for devolution and for the people of Northern Ireland, a clear majority of whom, polling shows, as we have already heard, do not want law changes imposed on them by us here in London.
I also support it for another reason. I do not take a position on abortion per se; I do, however, take a position on disability equality. What is proposed in the Bill drives a coach and horses through disability equality. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister—indeed, whether anyone in the Government or in No. 10—has considered the message that changing the law to allow abortion on grounds of disability in Northern Ireland sends to the people of Northern Ireland, to the devoted parents and families of disabled children and, most importantly, to the disabled citizens of Northern Ireland. Today, Northern Ireland is the safest place in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with a disability. If the Bill is passed, that will change overnight on 21 October.
I invite noble Lords to consider the Bill from the perspective of someone with Down’s syndrome. In England and Wales, the latest available figures show that 90% of human beings diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Today, in Northern Ireland, disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not allowed. Instead, the culture is one of welcome and support for this disability. The latest figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland showed that while 52 children with Down’s syndrome were born in 2016, in the same year only one child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.
I ask my noble friend the Minister: is that not a cause for celebration? Is it not to Northern Ireland’s immense credit that disability equality is actually respected there? He may be aware that next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the most important social justice milestone of the 20th century for disabled people: the Disability Discrimination Act. A Conservative Government introduced it. How does he reconcile the Act’s acknowledgement of the right of disabled human beings to be equal, to contribute to society and to be respected with the message of the Bill, which is that if you are born with a disability, as I was, you are better off dead? For that is its message to disabled human beings, their families and the people of Northern Ireland.
That is why it is so sad that the party which swore to respect Northern Ireland is driving roughshod over the clearly expressed views of the majority of its people to impose lethal discrimination on grounds of disability and to treat human beings diagnosed with disability before birth as less equal. How terribly progressive, my Lords.
I wonder who has the greater learning disability here: those who seem intent on denying the equal right to exist to those such as human beings with Down’s syndrome or those, especially in my party, who appear determined to unlearn the lessons of the Disability Discrimination Act.
I was born disabled; I will die disabled. That is the hand I have been dealt. Indeed, it is the hand that most of us are likely to be dealt before our days are done. Are we seriously saying, as we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, with all the amazing advances in medicine and technology, that we are so regressive, so insecure as a species, that we cannot cope with disability?
Various commentators report that the Prime Minister wants to leave a strong legacy. I am sure I am not the only Member of your Lordships’ House who will remember her speech committing herself and her Government to ending burning injustices. I will therefore take the opportunity to urge her not to create a burning injustice by allowing the abortion of human beings diagnosed before birth with conditions such as mine to be part of that message. If she does, no one in my party should be surprised if disabled people and their families think that the Conservative Party hates us and believes that we would be better off dead.
In conclusion, there is a clear choice to be made, and not just by my party. The choice is for disability equality or inequality. I implore all noble Lords who believe in genuine equality to stand with disabled human beings in Northern Ireland and respect them, and devolution, by supporting this amendment.
UPDATE: As of 19/07, over 19,000 residents of Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter
Baroness O’Loan has accused a Westminster attempt to force changes in the abortion law in Northern Ireland of “treat[ing] the people of Northern Ireland with contempt” in an open letter to the Prime Minister.
As of Monday over 15,000 people from Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter and objected to this anti-democratic move by Westminster. The letter demands that the Government take one of two options: either withdraw the Bill or add a clause to the Bill to address the democratic deficit within the Bill.
In a follow-up to her speech in the House of Lords, the letter to Theresa May, which is open for anyone from Northern Ireland to sign, draws attention to the constitutional impropriety of the fast-tracking of this controversial Bill.
This is the first time the Conservative Government have actively promoted abortion legislation and scrapped it’s neutral position on abortion.
In fact, due to the rushed process, according to Baroness O’Loan and apparently confirmed by the Government, that the abortion amendment does not function properly and cannot, for various technical, legal reasons, implement abortion into Northern Ireland.
“The clause which is currently in the bill does not work,” the baroness told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
However, the Government has since made clear that it is working to redraft the abortion clause so that it can force abortion onto Northern Ireland.
Lord Duncan said: “I have just met [the MPs who proposed the amendments] to discuss how best to take this forward and to ensure that [the amendments] can be delivered.”
Baroness O’Loan said that the Government are trying to force this Bill through, despite the fact that “100% of MPs representing Northern Ireland voted against the abortion amendment. It was imposed by more than 300 MPs who neither consulted nor represent the Northern Irish people.”
The radical abortion amendment was only made known on Thursday (04/07), it was only selected 37 minutes before the debate began on Tuesday (09/07), and was subsequently voted on later in the afternoon. MPs were advised before the debate that the abortion amendments were not in scope, so it came as a surprise to many when the Speaker selected them for debate.
Furthermore, the Bill failed to follow ordinary Parliamentary procedure. O’Loan said:
“Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation. The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected. There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures. It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.”
The purpose of the Bill was to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland whose Assembly is currently not sitting. Baroness O’Loan, along with a number of other critics, have said that this abortion amendment substantively alters the content of the Bill which had nothing to do with abortion.
In accusing the attempt to force abortion on the region, she reminds the Prime Minister of the threat that this legislation poses to the political balance between Westminster and Stormont, saying that the move will actually harm attempts to form an Executive in Northern Ireland.
The Bill with its radical abortion amendments undermines devolved powers of Northern Ireland who have legal control over their own abortion laws. The DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, even said the amendments would “drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.
Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:
“It is disgraceful that the Government would not just allow this hijacked Bill to pass under their watch, but now they intend to introduce secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland.
“This is a shocking departure from the Government’s neutral position on abortion and a departure from their firmly-held position of respecting devolution.
Full text of Baroness O’Loan’s letter
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you about the NI (Executive Functions) Bill, currently before Parliament.
Last week an amendment which seeks to change substantively the law on abortion was tabled to this Northern Ireland Bill by Members of Parliament who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. This Bill had been subject to a fast-track procedure, the constitutional propriety of which has been questioned, and the use of which has most recently been discouraged in the context of Northern Ireland, except in urgent situations, by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords. The use of the fast-track procedure reduced even further, the opportunity for proper scrutiny.
The amendment was then selected even though the clerks advised the Speaker that it was out of scope. Despite the fact that this devolved matter was addressed very recently by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016 when a clear majority of MLAs voted against changing the law in any way, this amendment was passed. This Bill has, therefore, been extended in a manifestly inappropriate way because basic constitutional procedures regarding selection of amendments were disregarded. 100% of the Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seats at Westminster, voted against what has become Clause 9 of the bill. The imposition of this legislation on Northern Ireland in its current form, voted for only by MPs who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, would represent a massive democratic deficit.
As Lord Duncan said in October last year when the previous Act was passed, “As someone who comes from part of the kingdom which has a fully functioning devolved Government, I stress again that these decisions must be taken by the devolved Administration in the north of Ireland. There is no point in pretending we can usurp democracy in that fashion, simply because devolution is not to our liking. Devolution must function even when it is not as we would like to see it, but rather, how it must be”.—[Official Report, 30/10/18; col. 1278.]
Regardless, then, of what one thinks about abortion it is a very big issue and the manner in which there has been an attempt to change abortion law in Northern Ireland this week treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt, since there is this huge democratic deficit in a situation in which sensitive negotiations are ongoing. It has the capacity to undermine the delicate political calibration between Northern Ireland and Westminster and to cause significant damage to attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly. We want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and functioning.
Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation. The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected. There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures. It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.
This has not happened in the current bill, and Lord Duncan has been unable to certify that it is fully compliant with European Human Rights Convention obligations.
That was not the Government’s fault BUT the Government now has a responsibility to respond.
We note that Lord Duncan has said that he intends to re-write the deficiencies in clause 9, which is not legally capable of being implemented, but if this involved placing the power to act on any basis other than the Section 26 power agreed by Parliament, this would involve the Government breaking the Sewell Convention, part of which involved an assurance to the devolved administrations that Government would not legislate on transferred matters, such as abortion, without the consent of the devolved administration. It would also make the Government complicit in the constitutional abuses which occurred last week in the House of Commons.
We are writing to call on you to do one of two things:
Either withdraw the Bill, which as the NI Attorney General has said is in part “unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts,” and which is inherently contradictory. We accept that this would require the introduction of another Bill to achieve the legitimate purpose of the original NI (Executive Functions) Bill. It would then be necessary for the Bill to be handled in a way which is not inconsistent with the law, the constitution and the UK’s international obligations.
Alternatively Government could support the amendment introduced by Baroness O’Loan, Lord Eames and Lord Hay, which seeks to address the total democratic deficit of the current bill by requiring that any legislation emanating from Clause 9 must be subject to a public consultation and only laid before Parliament if it has the support of a majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We the under-signed cannot overstate the grave importance of this matter.
Member of the House of Lords, Baroness O’Loan, has strongly condemned Tuesday’s abortion vote in the House of Commons as being “reminiscent of colonial days” as it undermined the sovereignty of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland to make their own decisions about their own abortion law.
On Tuesday evening, an amendment was added to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – a Bill designed to extend the period for forming an Executive in Northern Ireland – which attempted to introduce extreme changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland. The debate continued on Wednesday in the House of Lords with the second reading of the Bill and the new abortion amendment were heavily criticised by a majority of the of members the Lords who spoke.
Baroness O’Loan, who lost her own unborn baby as a result of an IRA bombing, criticised the amendment for its complete disregard for normal parliamentary procedure; for its undermining of the principle of devolution and for the fact that the potentially far reaching consequences of the radical abortion proposals were not made clear to those voting on the issue.
Highlighting the sidestepping of parliamentary process to force through a controversial and wide ranging abortion amendment, O’Loan pointed out that:
“[T]here has been no White Paper, no Green Paper, no consideration of the impact of the provision, no consultation, no explanatory memorandum from [Stella Creasy], no consideration of conflicting current legislative measures. There has been no provision even for this to be done with the proper parliamentary procedure through both Houses of Parliament…”
Neither was there any real “discussion in either Chamber of where medical science is in relation to the life of the unborn child, and no consideration of the pain which we know unborn babies suffer when they are aborted.”
In reference to the appeal made in the abortion amendment to The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Baroness O’Loan questioned why the British Parliament is forcing through an abortion amendment “at the behest of an unelected, unknown committee, operating under a complaints procedure contained in a protocol to a convention.”
Abortion is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, which means it is up to the Assembly of Northern Ireland to make decisions on it for the region. The issue was most recently debated in 2016 where the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to keep the current protections for unborn life in law.
Yet O’Loan, in her scathing critique of the decision of 332 MP to impose the will of the Parliament in Westminster on Northern Ireland, said: “[T]here is no democracy now. Devolution has gone, in effect, on those occasions on which Parliament decides it wishes to act against it.”
Clare McCarthy of Right To Life UK said:
“Baroness O’Loan excellent and politically sensitive speech was right on every point. She was right to highlight the fact that normal parliamentary procedure, as well as public scrutiny and any regard to devolution, was completely disregarded in relation to an abortion amendment which could radically change the abortion law in Northern Ireland and even the rest of the UK.
“She was right to highlight the abuse of the role and power of the Speaker by selecting an amendment which has nothing to do with the Bill, and potentially changing the law for the entirety of the UK.
“She was also right to point to the humanity of unborn children and the fact that protections for unborn life are not a form of oppression – two points which were largely not mentioned in a debate about forcing abortion of Northern Ireland”
Baroness O’Loan’s full speech is included below:
It is with a very heavy heart that I speak to noble Lords today. First, I would like to join those who have paid tribute to Sir Anthony Hart for his superb work, and to express my sympathy to his family. We have lost a very distinguished public servant in Northern Ireland.
Being without a Government for two and a half years has been quite difficult for us. We are stuck. The consequences for our economy, which is now in decline, are well known. Our health service is struggling. Our education service, as noble Lords have pointed out, requires significant development and our past has not been dealt with in a coherent and constructive way. That is all well known.
There seems to be little evidence that the current negotiations will produce an Executive. We do not know what is being discussed at these purported negotiations; the signals are profoundly depressing. The Secretary of State told us yesterday that they have had 150 meetings, but they could not have the one that worked it out together.
There are hundreds of issues on which the parties could unite for the common good, and there is urgent need for actions that could benefit our whole community and would not be contentious. Such actions would begin to heal some of the harm done in the past two and a half years, when so much trust has been eroded in our democracy. Sinn Féin continues publicly to support the deeply anti-democratic campaign of murder by the Provisional IRA. It is deeply resented, not just by Unionism. In private conversations we are receiving no assurances of any kind. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said that nothing is coming.
What happened yesterday in the other place was reminiscent of colonial days. The people of Northern Ireland are being denied the right the law accords them to make their own decisions in devolved matters. Through the amendments introduced yesterday, the other place has driven a coach and horses through the Good Friday agreement, which I would remind noble Lords is an international treaty binding on the United Kingdom. In addition, by doing this, the other place has given effect to the demands of Sinn Féin and taken a decision against the DUP. Others are saying that the DUP is very happy about this because it will not have to deal with those two issues. I have not heard noble Lords here or colleagues elsewhere express that view.
In imposing a deadline of 21 October for the negotiations to succeed, in the absence of which the Government will have to act in accordance with this Bill, the other place has taken away from the people of Northern Ireland their right to make their own decisions about matters which in law are devolved to them. They have acted in a partisan manner.
It is not that devolved powers have been withdrawn from Northern Ireland; they will exist in parallel with this Bill. In continuing to present this Bill—of course, the Government could withdraw it—the Government have made it much more unlikely that Sinn Féin will come to the table with open hearts and willing minds. It does not need to do so. It can just sit and wait until the Members of the other place do the work for it. As a consequence of the other place passing these amendments, Sinn Féin does not have to engage in democracy to achieve its ends; it can just say, “We refused to engage and look what happens”.
In 1967, the Parliament of Northern Ireland voted against embracing the Abortion Act. In 2016, the Northern Ireland Assembly, as noble Lords have heard today, voted by a clear majority not to change our abortion law in any way. The Government have consistently given assurances to the people of Northern Ireland that the devolution provisions will be respected. On 30 October last, I pointed out that in June of that year, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, gave me an assurance that the intention of the Government and the NIO,
“is to restore a power-sharing agreement and arrangement in Northern Ireland so that it will be up to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected officials to decide on abortion policy”.—[Official Report, 6/6/18; col. 1312.]
In October 2018, the Minister said:
“As someone who comes from part of the kingdom which has a fully functioning devolved Government, I stress again that these decisions must be taken by the devolved Administration in the north of Ireland. There is no point in pretending we can usurp democracy in that fashion, simply because devolution is not to our liking. Devolution must function even when it is not as we would like to see it, but rather, how it must be”.—[Official Report, 30/10/18; col. 1278.]
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, until last week we did not know what would be in the amendment. We had intimations that it might be coming, but the first we saw of the Creasy amendment was on Thursday morning last. Within hours, it had been passed by the House of Commons. The expectation was that the Speaker would do the right thing and exclude it because it was outside the scope of the Bill. The transparent inappropriateness of this was further underlined by the fact that—entirely consistent with the vote by the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016—100% of our MPs voted against the provision. It was imposed on us by more than 300 MPs who have neither consulted us nor represent us.
If we meddle in the affairs of Northern Ireland in this heedless way; if we do not object to the House of Commons introducing clauses which have nothing to do with the Bill before the House; if we accept that the Government have lost control of Parliament; if Parliament allows one person—the Speaker of the other place—to make his own decisions about what can and cannot become law, without having regard to international treaty obligations such as those which derive from the Good Friday agreement, human rights law and even the domestic law of the United Kingdom, we are surrendering our democracy and our much cherished constitution. For Northern Ireland, with 17 MPs in a Chamber of 600-plus, there is no democracy now. Devolution has gone, in effect, on those occasions on which Parliament decides it wishes to act against it.
The Select Committee on the constitution of your Lordships’ House, in a paper published just nine days ago, entitled The Legislative Process: the Passage of Bills through Parliament, stated at paragraph 39:
“We regret that legislation relating to Northern Ireland has regularly been fast-tracked. This has become common not just for bills which might be required to address urgent or unforeseen problems, but for routine and predictable matters such as budgetary measures. The political stalemate in Northern Ireland has led to an absence of a functioning Executive and a democratic deficit. Fast-tracking bills relating to Northern Ireland reduces further the scrutiny these measures should receive. Routinely fast-tracking in this way is unacceptable, unsustainable and should only be used for urgent matters”.
I have no doubt that the ultimate purpose of these amendments is to change Northern Ireland and UK law by decriminalising abortion. I know that many of your Lordships will have a different view on abortion from me, and I accept that, but that is not actually the point today. Clause 9 would mean that abortion would cease to be subject to any penalty in all circumstances. That means that any baby, at any stage of gestation, right up to birth, could be aborted without penalty. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, there is no human right to kill unborn babies.
I believe, as do hundreds and thousands of others, that human life exists from the moment of conception and that it should be protected at all times. Even those who are pro-choice are now beginning to accept that abortion is about killing babies. If you are three or five months pregnant and you go for a scan, the radiographer does not say to you, “That’s your foetus” or “That’s your embryo”. They say to you, “That’s your baby”. When I lost my baby, as the consequence of a bomb explosion, the doctor who stood at the end of my bed did not say to me, “Your pregnancy is over”. He said to me, “Your baby is dead”.
I will say a word to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I reassure her that neither I nor hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland feel oppressed, down- rodden or deprived of equality—far from it. We think that our law brings freedom to mothers and their children, and we seek to support them. I spoke in Oxford just a couple of weeks ago on freedom of conscience, and at the end of it, a woman came up to me. She said that she had recently carried a baby who had Down’s syndrome, and at each of her prenatal visits, the doctor had said to her, “You know it would be much easier—you could have an abortion. You should have an abortion”. It was a constant message, right through her pregnancy—a time when women are most vulnerable.
Let us be very clear. Clause 9 would change the law in England and Wales. The Member for Walthamstow said in the other place in June last year
“We would like to repeal sections 58 and 59 of OAPA”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/6/18; col. 207.]
Those are the penalty provisions of the Offences against the Person Act. This clause will override not just the expressed will of the last democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly but the deliberations of this Parliament.
I do not believe that those who voted as they did in the other place yesterday really intended to abolish any penalty for unlawful abortion in the UK, yet that would be the effect. If we decriminalise abortion—that is what this amendment seeks to do—we will make abortion available up to birth. I do not know how many of your Lordships have known the beauty and the terror of the moment of birth: the moment when a new soul, a beautiful little baby, comes into the world. It is a moment of absolute wonder. I accept that there are occasions when women do not want to carry their babies to term, but we need to be very clear that abortion is not a painless, clean, medical process. A baby will be killed in the womb through medication, have poison injected into its heart so that it is born dead, or it might just be born alive, as are an average of 30 babies each year in England and Wales, and left to die. In that brave new world, there will be fewer and fewer children with disabilities, as they do not merit the right to life. According to the Bill before your Lordships’ House, children with disabilities will be given no protection. Yet we know that while children may be born with disabilities, that is not the sum total of the reality of their existence; they deserve more than to be defined by their disability.
In England and Wales, we abort children because they are the wrong sex—we have proof of it—and because they have conditions like club feet and cleft palates, which are eminently curable. In effect, we have abortion on demand up to 24 weeks, and we will have abortion to birth. What sort of civilisation would countenance the killing of defenceless, unborn babies in the place where they should be safest: the mother’s womb? What sort of civilisation does this right up to the moment a baby is born?
Reverting to parliamentary procedure, there has been no White Paper, no Green Paper, no consideration of the impact of the provision, no consultation, no explanatory memorandum from the Member for Walthamstow, no consideration of conflicting current legislative measures. There has been no provision even for this to be done with the proper parliamentary procedure through both Houses of Parliament, rather than a Statutory Instrument subject only to negative resolution, which is all that would be required—the least accountable form of legislation. There will be no discussion in either Chamber of where medical science is in relation to the life of the unborn child, and no consideration of the pain which we know unborn babies suffer when they are aborted. There has been no thought of what we are saying as a people when we force this measure through at the behest of an unelected, unknown committee, operating under a complaints procedure contained in a protocol to a convention.
The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stated that states have a margin of appreciation in these matters: we have the right not to do this and we should not do it. Yet, this is what the other place has determined will dictate our future law, not proper parliamentary process, not even decisions influenced by the finest legal minds in the country making decisions in our Supreme Court, with the protections afforded by our resolute application of the rule of law. It is profoundly and fundamentally wrong that we should agree to consent to the disposal of human life before birth by means of a measure that was designed only to extend the period for forming an Executive in Northern Ireland until 21 October, and to grant powers to the Secretary of State to extend the period to 13 January 2020. We must reject this in Committee; if we do not, Northern Ireland will have had abortion foisted on it at a time of political crisis by the Parliament of a country that has some responsibility for what has happened to it in the past. There are those who are seeking to inflict on us more troubles. We have seen the bombing attempts. Last night, we saw the problems at bonfires as we approach 12 July—environmental problems that nevertheless resulted in rather more serious problems. Many of us still live in fear, and it is not an irrational fear. We have huge problems, with marginalised, impoverished and deprived people living in bleak conditions, where the rule of the terrorists still operates. Let us be under no illusion: the rule of the terrorists still operates in Northern Ireland.
It seems to me that despite the best efforts of the Minister and all those concerned, the Government have stood by and done very little for the past two and a half years. It will be worse if we acquiesce in this travesty of a Bill, containing a clause imposing abortion on demand on a people who have repeatedly said they do not want it.
The BBC have revealed a deep pro-abortion bias by referring to controversial amendments, including an amendment attempting to introduce abortion to Northern Ireland, as “exciting titbits” (a phrase which has since been removed).
In the build up to yesterday’s debate on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, the BBC drew attention to three amendments which were the subject of much debate. After explaining that it is the Speaker of the House who has the authority to decide which amendments are accepted, the BBC article said
“But, if chosen, there are three exciting titbits that could make this bill more than just a straightforward government measure.” [emphasis added]
One of the “exciting titbits” to which the BBC refer was an amendment concerning abortion in Northern Ireland.
For reasons unknown, the BBC has subsequently changed this sentence to say:
“But, if chosen, there are three amendments that could make this bill more than just a straightforward government measure.”
Right To Life UK’s Clare McCarthy said: “The pro-abortion bias of the BBC is on clear display in this statement and its hurried revision. The national broadcaster has a duty to remain neutral in its dissemination of news, and this kind of statement speaks volumes about their attitude to abortion.”
“Referring to a radical abortion amendment is an ‘exciting titbit’ trivalises an immensely important issue with far reaching consequences not only for mothers and their unborn babies in Northern Ireland, but also potentially for the rest of the UK.”
“This ‘exciting titbit’ also threatens to undermine devolution, makes a mockery of parliamentary process, and the language stands in stark contrast to the BBC’s own style guide which says ‘[a]bortion is a very painful topic’ and is ‘one of the most polarising moral issues’.
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