Northern Ireland MLAs call for opportunity to repeal extreme abortion regime

Northern Ireland MLAs have called for an opportunity to introduce new legislation to the Northern Ireland Assembly to repeal the new extreme abortion regime, which came into force on Tuesday.

The new regime allows abortion up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Abortion is now available on-demand, without conditionality, for the first time in the UK, allowing for sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand

The new legislation was drafted by the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO) after the UK Parliament voted last year to impose abortion on the province in the absence of a devolved government at Stormont, which has since been re-established.

Speaking at Stormont on Tuesday, DUP MLA Paul Givan noted that the NIO has ignored the majority of people in Northern Ireland and over 21,000 who responded to its consultation on the issue.  

He said: “Of those who responded to the consultation, 79% were opposed to any change in the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. The British Government, once again, rode roughshod over the will of the people in this country.”

“The abortion industry must be delighted that, in Northern Ireland, there are the most extreme, radical abortion laws anywhere in Europe. It is a travesty that it has been allowed to happen…

“We will seek legislative change so that we have a regime in Northern Ireland that reflects what I believe will be the will of the people on this issue: defending both lives, that of the mother and of the preborn,” he added.

Paul Frew echoed his fellow DUP MLA’s concerns over the people of Northern Ireland being ignored.

He said: “In one fell swoop, the British Government, and by extension the Northern Ireland Office, have made a mockery of consultation, with 79% of the people who responded, including myself, being ignored; a mockery of legislation and how it should be produced, with time taken to go through each clause to scrutinise it and be accountable for it; a mockery of our healthcare system; and a mockery of how we help and assist the most vulnerable in our society.

“The most vulnerable people in our society are people yet unborn but who have a heart that beats and a body that grows. We are failing all those people. I say this to the NIO: what you have done here in imposing these guidelines and legislation on the people of Northern Ireland is shameful when you know fine well what the people think.”

TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “from today, what should be the safest place for an unborn, namely, its mother’s womb, can become, on a whim, one of the most dangerous places”.

“I urge the Assembly to find time to reverse this outrageous, obnoxious situation and to find a voice and to give a voice to the unborn,” he added.

However, speaker Alex Maskey said scheduling was a matter for the business committee.

Jonathan Buckley highlighted that because of Northern Ireland’s previous pro-life policies the province could celebrate the contributions and lives of 100,000 people.

He said: “It is an absolute shame on the British Government and a shame on the NIO that, in the midst of such uncertain times and such crisis that we are in, these regulations and legislation can come into effect.”

“I rise as someone who is unashamedly pro-life. I value life from beginning to end, but it seems that while we debate COVID-19 in this place and across this country, many have risen and spoken with great emotion and sincerity about the lives that will be lost as a result of this cursed plague, COVID-19, but, yet, can turn a blind eye while regulations come into place that end the life of the unborn.”

Independent MLA Trevor Lunn, who is broadly ‘pro-choice’, told News Letter the new extreme abortion rules which allow for disability-selective abortions up to birth are ‘grotesque’, ‘immoral’ and ‘not humane’.

The former Alliance MLA said: “Our whole thrust was fatal foetal abnormalities – where there’s no hope of life outside the womb. So to see this line inserted now in the bill was quite a surprise to me.

“It refers to I think ‘serious foetal impairment’ being a justification for abortion right up ‘til full term… There is no reason for that. If a child has an expectation of life, whether it has an impairment or otherwise, as far as I’m concerned there’s no justification for the abortion.”

“It’s open-ended. It’s not defined. Down’s Syndrome is the obvious one. But there’s other impairments that people suffer from which you’re certainly not going to die from.”

“I just find the whole thing grotesque… It’s not humane.”

Abortion activists are now targeting Northern Ireland’s Department of Health in a bid to introduce ‘DIY’ abortions to the province.

Campaign to repeal extreme abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland launched

The SaveLives: Repeal campaign has been launched to urge Northern Ireland’s politicians to save lives by repealing the extreme abortion regime that will be imposed on the province just next week. 

The new regime, announced yesterday, will introduce disability-selective abortions up to the point of birth, for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Abortion will be available on-demand, without conditionality, up to 12 weeks’ for the first time in the UK, allowing for sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand

Between 12 weeks’ and 24 weeks’ abortion will be available in cases where “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy’”. Similar wording in England and Wales has, in practice, allowed for de-facto abortion on demand.

Under the new regime, abortions will be available in neighbourhood GP surgeries throughout Northern Ireland. Again, this goes further than the current law in England and Wales, where the Abortion Act 1967 currently restricts abortion to hospitals and a limited number of approved locations by the Secretary of State – these are not routinely provided in GPs surgeries. This will dramatically increase the locations, compared to England and Wales, where this extremely divisive procedure can take place.

There will be no requirement that a doctor must be involved in an abortion – midwives and nurses will be able to provide abortions. This goes further than the law In England and Wales, where abortions can only be performed by a registered medical practitioner (doctor), and the Abortion Act requires the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) drafted the framework following on from a public consultation it carried out last year.

However, the NIO seems to have ignored the majority of its over 21,000 responses. It revealed 79% of respondents had “expressed a view registering their general opposition to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted”.

Right To Life UK is now calling on members of Northern Ireland’s Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to introduce legislation as soon as possible to repeal the extreme abortion regime.

They want the Northern Ireland Department of Health to confirm it will prioritise dealing with the Coronavirus crisis and not divert any time and resources, which are critical to saving lives during this crisis, to help usher in this extreme abortion regime across the province.

Thousands of people have already used the platform to contact their local representatives, in less than 24 hours. The changes are due to be enforced from 31 March 2020  without any scrutiny from the Northern Ireland Assembly which reconvened on 11 January.

A new poll, 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 will be introducing to Northern Ireland.

Pro-life MP Carla Lockhart said the Government’s decision to impose its abortion regime “ignores the devolution settlement and the overwhelming viewpoint of the Northern Ireland people”.

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

“Despite the fact that Stormont has returned and the UK is in the middle of the Coronavirus crisis, the UK Government are proceeding with imposing an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland on 31st March 2020.

“To add insult to injury, they have taken what Parliament asked them to impose on Northern Ireland and made it far worse, meaning that Northern Ireland will have one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world, despite 79% of respondents to the consultation being opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted.

“This extreme abortion regime will legalise sex-selective abortion and introduce abortion for babies with disabilities including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome to birth. It will introduce defacto abortion-on-demand to Northern Ireland through to 24-weeks.

It will also open up abortion provision to midwives and nurses. This goes much further than the law In England and Wales, where abortions can only be performed by a doctor and the Abortion Act requires the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed. 

“Abortions will also be available at GPs surgeries throughout Northern Ireland, this again goes further than the law In England and Wales, where abortions are restricted to hospitals or places approved by the Secretary of State.

“Introducing abortion on demand to Northern Ireland would cost over £5m a year, putting more pressure on an already stretched health service. Rolling out the service is likely to cost much more in terms of start-up costs and will take vital health service time and resources from fighting the Coronavirus.

“We are calling on MLAs to urgently confirm the Department of Health will prioritise dealing with the Coronavirus crisis and not divert any time and resources, which are critical to saving lives during this crisis, to instead introducing this extreme abortion regime across Northern Ireland.

“We are also calling on MLAs to bring forward legislation as soon as possible to Stormont to repeal this extreme change to the law”

‘Impartial’ BBC upholds complaint of bias over NI abortion legislation coverage

The BBC has upheld a complaint of bias over its coverage of the UK Government voting to impose abortion on Northern Ireland.

Andrew Todd complained to the BBC after news coverage of the parliamentary vote last year only showed interviews with people who were pro-abortion and in favour of the extreme change in law.

The BBC initially responded by claiming it had approached a number of potential pro-life contributors but was unable to source an interview with anyone who opposed with the vote.

However, Andrew then contacted five pro-life charities who all confirmed they had not been approached by the ‘impartial’ public broadcaster for comment.

This prompted Andrew to file a “stage 2” complaint to the BBC Executive Complaints Unit, The ECU admitted earlier this month that “due impartiality” was not achieved and would brief production teams.

A couple of months after this incident, the BBC’s political editor for Northern Ireland referred to the picture of a premature baby on a pro-life postcard as a foetus.

The insensitive comments were made live on BBC Newsline, by Mark Davenport, just hours before a law imposing Europe’s most extreme abortion legislation on the province came into force

In the build-up to a debate on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, the BBC drew attention to an amendment, that eventually brought Europe’s most extreme abortion regime to Ireland, calling it an exciting titbit

For a number of years the BBC’s ‘News Style Guide’ has required their journalists to ‘avoid pro-abortion, and use pro-choice instead’. When it comes to describing the pro-life position they advise journalists to ‘use anti-abortion rather than pro-life’.

The BBC has also been caught suppressing polling they commissioned for a documentary, called Abortion on Trial, which showed that there was no widespread support for further liberalising the existing law.

Instead, in the documentary that aired, the BBC cherry-picked minority results from polling that supported what appeared to be a clear bias in the documentary towards removing the current legal restrictions and safeguards around abortion. 

The same documentary was also criticised for dropping a pregnant woman from their panel who had chosen not to abort her daughter who had Down’s syndrome.

Responding to the outcome of the complaint, Director of Advocacy of pro-life group Life Charity, Liz Parsons, said:

“The BBC has for many years been widely seen as being on the side of the abortion lobby. Its behaviour on Tuesday 9 July 2019 was just one of the many instances in which it gives precedence to the pro-abortion side of this debate. We commend Mr Todd for taking the BBC to task about its biased reporting and we urge other viewers to do the same in future.

“As a public broadcaster in receipt of public funds, the BBC has a duty and obligation to be impartial in its reporting. Its coverage of abortion and assisted suicide must reflect the views of all sides of the debate in a fair and balanced way.

“We hope this ruling will help guide the behaviour of the BBC in future. We also call on the regulator, OFCOM, which disappointingly refused to hear this complaint, to step up and do its duty to hold the BBC to account.”

Pressure continues to mount on Conservative Government not to introduce extreme abortion regime

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, pressure continues to mount on the UK Government not to go further than legally required in its legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland which is due to come into force before the 31 March deadline.

Sir John Hayes, a Conservative MP who has held six ministerial positions, has said the Government’s plan to impose abortion on demand on Northern Ireland should be stopped.

In a comment piece for influential political blog ConservativeHome, Sir John Hayes suggests “the Government might be using Northern Ireland as a ‘guinea pig’ to test policies before implementing them in England, rather as the poll tax was ‘tested’ in Scotland.”

Yet, no such public appetite exists,” he adds. “In fact, recent research conducted by the University of Liverpool shows that only 5% of people in Northern Ireland support introducing abortion through to 24-weeks, as the Government’s proposed framework aims to do.”

“The same research shows that 58 percent of Sinn Fein voters and 54 percent of DUP only want abortions to be allowed when there is a threat to the mother’s health.

“Just weeks ago we were celebrating the DUP and Sinn Fein putting aside differences to restore the assembly. Wouldn’t it be sadly ironic then if the UK Government imposed a policy on Northern Ireland, overriding devolution in the process, that unites the majority of voters from both parties in their hostility to Westminster.”

Baroness Nuala O’Loan, the former police ombudsman, has today echoed Sir John Hayes’ sentiments on respecting devolution and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

She told the Irish Catholic: “It is as if the newly-returned NI Assembly did not exist. Yet the NI Assembly and especially Minister Robin Swann will have to provide the whole abortion service.

There has been no impact assessment, no preparation (because nobody knows what is coming), no training of staff, no allocation of ringfenced budget to pay for the anticipated 1,000 new procedures a year: procedures for which the NHS in England and Wales pays private providers between £400 and £600 a time. So, a budget of some £500,000 should be allocated. I have not seen any sign of any budget allocation.”

US Congressman Chris Smith has written to the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, calling on him to refer Northern Ireland’s abortion laws back to the Assembly.

After meeting senior DUP figures, including Ian Paisley MP and Paul Givan MLA, last week the Congressman asked the Secretary of State to re-examine his course of action and defer to the Northern Ireland Assembly, adding that “abortion on demand is not the will of the people in Northern Ireland.”

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson revealed this week that his party’s “priority in the current circumstances was to protect life including that of the unborn child”.

Addressing the Minister for State Robin Walker, he added: “The minister will be aware of concern my party has expressed including the first minister about the decision to press on with regulation on abortion in Northern Ireland despite the Assembly being restored and this being a clear breach of the devolution settlement.

“Will the minister heed calls from Northern Ireland politicians for this matter to be dealt with by the Assembly and not this parliament.”

Walker acknowledged the concerns of the DUP but gave no further clarity on the impending regulations, only stating that the Government was legally obligated to act.

Diana Johnson MP who was a key architect and supporter of imposing abortion on Northern Ireland described the past six months of abortion being unavailable in Northern Ireland as a “lost opportunity”.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Northern Ireland Secretary faces being dragged through the courts over the controversial abortion framework.

The threat of a legal challenge is outlined in a pre-action notice sent last month by lawyers acting on behalf of Right To Life UK to NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. The pre-action notice warns that the organisation will be taking legal action against the Government if the final abortion framework introduced to Northern Ireland goes further than the Government is legally required to introduce.

The Government are legally required, by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, to introduce a limited abortion framework in the province ahead of 31 March 2020. The Government has launched a consultation on a proposed abortion framework for Northern Ireland which goes far beyond the limited changes strictly necessary for the Government to comply with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The pre-action notice outlines that should the Government proceed to implement the proposals as outlined in the consultation document into the final framework for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland, the Government would be acting unlawfully.

The notice outlines that any regulations created to give effect to the Government’s duty under section 9(1) of the Northern Ireland Act would be susceptible to judicial review. The solicitors have outlined that the organisation would have standing to bring forward such proceedings. Right To Life UK has therefore put the Government on notice that they will seek to challenge, by way of judicial review, any provision which unlawfully seeks to impose abortion on Northern Ireland beyond the legal obligation dictated by the Northern Ireland Act. 

The Government has consistently and repeatedly underlined its commitment to devolution in Northern Ireland, particularly as it relates to the issue of abortion, emphasising that the best place for decisions on abortion to be made is at the Northern Ireland Assembly, by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

Background on the changes

The proposed framework drops many of the current legal safeguards provided by the Abortion Act in England and Wales. The proposals open up abortion provision to any healthcare professional, which could include pharmacists, nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, art therapists and dieticians. It also drops the requirement that two doctors sign off on an abortion.

The proposal includes virtually no legal limit on the locations where abortions can take place, potentially allowing for the home use of both abortion pills, along with abortion provision in pharmacies, GP surgeries, school nurse clinics, mobile abortion clinics and ‘telemed’ abortions.

In practice, abortion on demand would be available up to either 22 or 24 weeks under mental health grounds. Abortion without certification would be available up to either 12 or 14 weeks. This would allow sex-selective abortions to be available on-demand through this period with no specific provision banning sex-selective abortion through to 22/24 weeks. 

The proposal would also see abortion for disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome introduced to Northern Ireland, available right through to birth. A poll organised by the University of Liverpool and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council showed 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 proposed introducing to Northern Ireland. This is a clear rejection of the extreme proposed abortion framework that the UK Government wants to impose on the people of Northern Ireland.