MPs decry “total legal chaos” that will result from NI’s new abortion regime

A Government Report on the implementation of a new abortion regime in Northern Ireland has been heavily criticised from across the House of Commons with MPs decrying the “total legal chaos” that will result from it.

Without any regulatory or legal framework on abortion before 28 weeks, abortions could be performed almost anywhere, including schools; there would be no requirement for parental consent or involvement for under 16s; there would be no requirement to see a doctor; abortion on the grounds of the sex of the baby would become legal; and as in England and Wales, the state will have the authority to force a woman to have an abortion against her will.

If the new abortion regime comes into effect with no law or framework governing abortion up until the 28th week of pregnancy, it will result in what Ian Paisley MP decried as “total legal chaos”.

Following on from this in a debate in the House of Commons yesterday evening (09/09) MP, Fiona Bruce, questioned how the new law will deal with the issue of forced abortions. In removing the current law, it will no longer be clear how to prosecute someone who forces a woman to undergo an abortion.

She also drew attention to the fact that without any regulatory framework, abortions could take place well past the point at which a child could survive outside of the womb. Ms Bruce described this situation as a “legal vacuum”.

The Report was supposed to review the current abortion law in Northern Ireland, and set out some details for how it will be overturned from the 21st October if Stormont does not reform.

However, in the estimation of a number of MPs from Northern Ireland as well as Conservative and Labour politicians, it failed to do that.

The Report follows a weekend of demonstrations in Belfast where tens of thousands of people rallied against the imposition of this extreme abortion law on Northern Ireland.

The debate takes place as the Government’s Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act – initially designed to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland – is set to radically alter the abortion law in Northern Ireland if the law comes into effect on the 21st October.

Currently, Northern Ireland has strong protections in law for unborn babies, but the new law set to be imposed by Westminster – without the support of a single MP from Northern Ireland sitting in the House of Commons – will repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, upon which the abortion law in Northern Ireland is based. This will make abortion up until 28 weeks legal without any restriction.

If the Northern Ireland Assembly is able to reconvene before the 21st October, the abortion regime will not come into effect. However, MPs from the House of Commons have drawn attention to the inherent challenges of reconvening Stormont by this date because one of the main parties in that discussion, Sinn Féin, want Westminster’s extreme abortion law to come to Northern Ireland. As such, Sinn Féin have no incentive to reunify the Assembly.

There are around 100,000 people alive today who would otherwise not be, had the Abortion Act 1967 in the rest of Britain, been extended to that region.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said:

“Stormont has consistently rejected abortion and polling has shown that the majority of women in Northern Ireland (66% in general and 70% of 18-34 year olds) do not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.”

“The Northern Ireland Act has been hijacked by pro-abortion politicians and the statistics and demonstrations from the weekend show that the people of Northern Ireland do not want this draconian abortion legislation.”

15,000 from Northern Ireland sign open letter to object to Gov forcing abortion on the region

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.

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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. 

House of Lords will attempt to prevent abortion being forced on Northern Ireland

Members of the House of Lords are introducing amendments to a Bill to prevent it from forcing abortion on Northern Ireland.

As the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is being fast-tracked through its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday and Wednesday next week (15/07, and 17/07), some members of the House of Lords are calling for measures to ensure the Bill is not hijacked to force abortion on demand on Northern Ireland.

These measures include the removal of the abortion amendment which intends to force abortion on demand on Northern Ireland and which should have been considered to be ‘out of scope’ of the Bill.

Baroness O’Loan has also added another amendment, designed to respect the devolution settlement with Northern Ireland by requiring a majority of Members of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland (MLAs) to approve any legislation before it is laid before Parliament.

Abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, which means that the Assembly in Northern Ireland has the authority to make its own abortion law independent of the Government in Westminster.

Those members of the House of Lords bringing in these amendments are attempting to safeguard the sovereignty of Northern Ireland in making its own abortion law.

Right To Life UK has set up a function to enable the public to encourage members of the House of Lords to speak in the debates and to reject the pro-abortion amendment.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said

“It’s really important that as many people as possible encourage the members of the House of Lords to reject these abortion amendments.”

“From a pro-life perspective, the House of Lords has an opportunity to save lives in Northern Ireland. But even if someone is not pro-life the indifference on display in the House of Commons to the norms of parliamentary procedure should be a concern for all. So wherever you stand on this issue, please consider contacting the Lords urging them to try to prevent abortion being forced on Northern Ireland.”