House of Lords approves UK Government’s extreme abortion regime for Northern Ireland

The House of Lords has voted 355 to 77 in favour of a motion approving the UK Government’s extreme abortion regime in Northern Ireland.

An amendment to the motion, put forward by Baroness O’Loan, calling on peers not to approve the regulations was also defeated, with 112 votes in favour and 388 against.

While tonight’s vote in the House of Lords is a defeat for pro-life campaigners and the people of Northern Ireland they may indicate a change in momentum in the House of Lords.

A far larger group of peers voted against the motion than those who opposed a motion in July 2019 to impose abortion on Northern Ireland, which was only opposed by 37 peers. This indicates that there has been a large increase in the number of active pro-life peers in the House of Lords.

In her amendment, Baroness O’Loan noted the extreme abortion regime has been rejected by the people of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In addition, her amendment brings attention to how the extreme abortion regime discriminates against those with a disability and allows sex-selective abortion in the first 12 weeks of gestation.

Speaking in the House of Lords tonight, the former police commissioner reiterated that a majority of Northern Ireland’s 90 MLAs voted to reject the regulations and that 79% of consultation respondents were against any change in abortion law.

She also highlighted that over 18,000 people from the province have signed an open letter urging Westminster to let Northern Ireland decide its own abortion laws.

Pleading with her fellow peers, in her closing remarks, Baroness O’Loan said: “listen to the people of Northern Ireland, listen to our Assembly, do not approve these regulations.”

In his amendment, disabled peer Lord Shinkwin called on peers to decline the regulations on the grounds that they discriminate and perpetuate stereotypes against those with a disability.

The peer, who was born with a rare genetic brittle bone disease, told News Letter: “Although technically the regulations only relate to Northern Ireland, the whole UK Parliament is being invited to endorse them and to thereby legitimise disability discrimination.”

Lord Shinkwin did not take his amendment through to a vote.

‘A huge disappointment’

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

“Tonight’s vote in the House of Lords is not just a blow to the people of Northern Ireland and to the majority of MLAs, who voted against the extreme abortion regime at the Northern Ireland Assembly, but is also a huge disappointment for both pro-life campaigners and people with disabilities across the UK. 

“People such as Heidi Crowter and Lord Shinkwin who have expressed that the current law in the UK makes them ‘want to cry’ and tells them ‘they are better off dead’.”

“Following stirring speeches from the likes of Lord Alton, Baroness O’Loan, Lord Shinkwin, Lord Taylor of Warwick, Baroness Stroud, and Lord McCrea a far larger group of peers decided to vote against the regulations than did in 2019. 

This may indicate a change in momentum in the House of Lords with a large increase in the number of active pro-life peers in the House of Lords. 

“Thank you to the thousands of people around the country who have written to peers asking them to oppose these regulations. While we may not have been able to get the result we wanted tonight, your work helped get a far larger group of peers taking a pro-life position on these regulations. This provides an excellent starting point for building further support for positive pro-life changes to abortion legislation in the future.”

What happens next?

Following tonight’s votes in the House of Lord’s, MPs will vote on whether to approve the extreme abortion regime, with the vote likely to take place on Wednesday.

If MPs vote down the redrafted regulations it will send a very strong signal to the Government that these extreme regulations should not be imposed on Northern Ireland.

They will then be forced to, again, redraft the regulations to either be 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.

New poll finds strong majority in NI oppose new law allowing disability-selective abortion right up to birth

A majority of people in Northern Ireland are against introducing disability-selective abortion up to birth, a new poll has found.

The survey, conducted by Northern Ireland-based pollsters LucidTalk, found nearly three-quarters of respondents (72%) were against abortion to birth for babies with a cleft palate or cleft lip. Only 15% were supportive of introducing abortion to birth for cleft lip or cleft palate.

Over two-thirds (67%) of respondents were also opposed to abortion for Down’s syndrome between 24 weeks gestation up to birth.

The poll, which had 1,878 respondents and was conducted between 3-5 June, is further evidence the people of Northern Ireland do not want Westminster imposing an extreme abortion regime on the province.

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

Under the new regime, disability-selective abortion will be available up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion opposing the extreme regulations which have been imposed on the province by the UK Government.

Across the two votes held, 75 MLAs voted against the provisions in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities.

However, the UK Government has claimed it has obligations to impose the extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland – something which has been questioned by two leading lawyers in a House of Lords report and by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP.

Members of the House of Lords will debate and vote on the regulations today, ahead of a debate and vote in the House of Commons later in the week.

Ahead of the debate, Lord Shinkwin has proposed a motion to decline the regulations on the grounds that they discriminate and perpetuate stereotypes against those with a disability.

The peer, who was born with a rare genetic brittle bone disease, told News Letter:

“This polling demonstrates how out of touch the government is with public opinion in driving these outdated and discriminatory regulations through Parliament.

“Although technically the regulations only relate to Northern Ireland, the whole UK Parliament is being invited to endorse them and to thereby legitimise disability discrimination.”

Baroness O’Loan has also tabled a motion urging peers to reject the Northern Ireland Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020.

In her motion, the former police commissioner notes the extreme abortion regime has been rejected by the Northern Ireland Assembly, discriminate against those with a disability and will allow for sex-selective abortion in the first 12 weeks of gestation.

In response to the poll results, DUP MP Carla Lockhart said: “These polling results underline yet again why it is monstrous that the UK government should seek to impose a discriminatory abortion regime on Northern Ireland.”

“In crafting regulations that say it is OK to terminate viable unborn babies between 24 weeks gestation and full-term because they have a non-fatal disability, while saying that viable babies of exactly the same age should be protected from this because they don’t have a disability, the law says loud and clear that the lives of people with non-fatal disabilities are less valuable than those with fatal disabilities, with fatal consequences.”

CARE NI, who commissioned the poll, said the results “highlighted yet again that Westminster is out of touch and the issue of abortion law should be returned to the NI Assembly”.

Peers line up to condemn UK Govt over extreme abortion regulations

Peers in the House of Lords have lined up to condemn the Government over its handling of imposing an extreme abortion regime in Northern Ireland.

In a debate in the House of Lords on Monday 8th June, several Peers spoke boldly about how the UK Government and Parliament has ignored devolution and the people of Northern Ireland.

It is just the latest in a series of criticisms over the past week kickstarted by a House of Lords report raising concerns over the Government’s approach to imposing abortion on Northern Ireland. Criticism then arose from a large group of cross-party MPs in the House of Commons and then again in a Committee debating the legislation.

Sex-selective abortion permitted

Baroness O’Loan criticised the Government for drawing up extreme regulations which go much further than what was required of them.

The former police commissioner brought attention to how the regulations will allow sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand, up to 12 weeks and will discriminate against babies with disability allowing for abortion right up to birth.

Baroness O’Loan has spoken out against the Government’s extreme proposals since they were announced.

Shortly after the initial vote to impose abortion on Northern Ireland, last year, the pro-life peer strongly condemned the vote 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.

Last week, she launched an open letter calling on MPs to let Northern Ireland decide its own abortion laws – it already has over 13,000 signatures.

Baroness Eaton questioned the Government for ignoring the CEDAW report it claims its Northern Ireland abortion regulations are based on.

She said: “My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister say why Regulation 3, unlike the Abortion Act 1967, makes abortion on the basis of sex lawful in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy?

“Given that it is now possible to know the sex of the foetus between seven and 10 weeks, and that the CEDAW report expressly condemned sex-selective abortion, why does that regulation make it lawful? What meetings have the Government had with the organisation Stop Gendercide in considering how to define these regulations?”

Sex-selective abortion usually targets baby girls due to a preference among certain parents and some cultures for having sons. This is not speculation. This practice is already happening in other countries which have very permissive abortion laws. For example, abortion is available in Canada for any reason and as such, it has been described as a “haven” for parents wishing to have an abortion because their child is a girl.

There is also evidence of this practice in the UK and it is possible that a form of ‘abortion tourism’ will arise as people from other countries seek abortions on the basis of the sex of their child.

Northern Ireland is ‘united against the regulations’

Lord Kilclooney questioned whether the Government is wise to overrule the will of people in Northern Ireland, noting that the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly are united against the extreme regulations.

He said: “the problem today is whether British parliamentarians—especially English parliamentarians—have the right to impose their standards on a devolved legislature.

“This issue has had a positive result in Northern Ireland, creating cross-community politics: cross-community opposition to the regulations and cross-community support for the regulations. But as has been mentioned, the Northern Ireland Assembly, by 78 votes out of a total membership of 90, united against the regulations.

“Will the Minister say whether the Northern Ireland Assembly has the right to amend the regulations? If the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland, with a mandate to oppose the regulations, takes no action, will Her Majesty’s Government abolish devolution in Northern Ireland?”

Ignoring the other questions the Government spokesperson, Viscount Younger of Leckie, responded that the regulations can be amended in Northern Ireland should that be wished in the future, but elsewhere in the debate reiterated the Government’s intention to implement them in their current extreme form.

‘There are so many ways in which these regulations are concerning’

Baroness Stroud said: “There are so many ways in which these regulations are concerning but, given all that we have been focused on in the last few months around protecting lives equally, it is extraordinary to me that the Government should present such a discriminatory provision, which is in direct violation of paragraph 85 of the CEDAW report.”

Under the new abortion regime (2.1.3), in Northern Ireland, abortion for disabilities will be available through to birth “if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled.”

In England and Wales, wording that has appeared similarly restrictive  (‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’) has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

In England and Wales – where abortion is available up until birth if a baby has a disability – people with disabilities are unjustly and disproportionately targeted by abortion legislation (see video segment here from the BBC Victoria Derbyshire Show where a mother was offered a termination at 38-weeks gestation).

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

Northern Ireland up to now has had a very different approach. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not permitted and there is a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability rather than eliminating them.

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

Lord Mackay of Clashfern simply questioned why the UK Government would seek to overrule the Executive when they are now happily active again?

Viscount Younger of Leckie said it was good news the Assembly is now up and running but claimed the Government were “obliged” to follow through with imposing the regulations.

However, this claim has been disputed by two of the UK’s top lawyers, Lord Brennan QC and Ian Leist QC, who have questioned the legitimacy of the extreme abortion regime.

In a submission to the House of Lords Committee the pair described last month’s decision to re-table the regulations four months after the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly as “constitutionally indefensible”.

They add: “The Government should not have re-tabled but should instead be asking parliament to repeal Section 9. This again is a matter of fundamental legal and political importance that I would suggest must be brought to the attention of the House.”

Repealing section 9 of the regulations would give the people of Northern Ireland the power to decide its own abortion legislation.

Government claims abortion regime imposed on NI mirrors UK law, MPs reveal this to be false

The Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker MP, has claimed that the extreme abortion regime imposed on Northern Ireland mirrors the regulations of the Abortion Act 1967 in the rest of the UK. 

In a Committee debate, held yesterday, the Minister for Northern Ireland said regulations were implemented in a way that means that the outcomes delivered will be equivalent to those in the rest of the UK. 

However, a group of cross-party MPs pointed out how the extreme regulations go much further than the UK regulations and urged the Minister to respect devolution and let Northern Ireland decide its own abortion laws. 

‘The people of Northern Ireland were ignored’

In his speech, Ian Paisley MP revealed some key and distinct ways in which the regulations differ from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Firstly, he notes that abortions can take place up to 12 weeks without conditionality, for the first time in the UK, allowing for sex-selective abortions to take place.

Sex-selective abortion usually targets baby girls due to a preference among certain parents and some cultures for having sons. This is not speculation. This practice is already happening in other countries which have very permissive abortion laws. For example, abortion is available in Canada for any reason and as such, it has been described as a “haven” for parents wishing to have an abortion because their child is a girl.

There is also evidence of this practice in the UK and it is possible that a form of ‘abortion tourism’ will arise as people from other countries seek abortions on the basis of the sex of their child.

Ian also drew attention to the fact that while in Great Britain two doctors need to sign off on a termination this is not the case with Northern Ireland’s regulations which will allow a midwife, a nurse, or anyone with a medical qualification, to sign off on a medical abortion.

In England and Wales, 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. 

Even with this legal restriction in place, there are still many cases of complications during abortions in the UK, resulting in babies being born alive, women’s uteruses being perforated or severe haemorrhaging that has resulted in death

Under the new regime, there is no requirement that a doctor performs the abortion and no requirement for the approval of two doctors before an abortion can be performed.

The DUP MP also revealed how sanctions for those who breach the extreme abortion regime , such as a male who has surreptitiously given a woman an abortion pill, mean “a person can buy their way out of that problem with less than £5,000”. Northern Ireland’s current legislation deters individuals from breaking laws which safeguard the lives of unborn babies with a potential prison sentence of five years or more.

In addition to the points raised by Ian, abortions will be available in GP surgeries throughout Northern Ireland. In England and Wales, the Abortion Act (1967) currently restricts abortion to hospitals or places approved by the Secretary of State. This means that abortions are available in a limited number of approved locations and abortion are not routinely provided in GPs surgeries.

Performing abortions in GP surgeries throughout Northern Ireland is a substantially different approach to that of England and Wales. In Northern Ireland under the new regime, all GPs surgeries will be approved locations to do abortions. This will dramatically increase the locations, compared to England and Wales, where this extremely divisive procedure can take place. 

The majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to these changes to abortion law. The fact that abortions can take place in GP surgeries in villages and towns throughout Northern Ireland, whilst people are opposed to these measures are getting their annual health check-up in the room next door, is highly insensitive to the views held by the majority of people in the province.

In his closing remarks Ian argues that the Government has not listened to the voice of people of Northern Ireland, saying: “The Government did not listen. Do not kid yourself. Do not play the game with us and say, ‘We listened to the people of Northern Ireland.’ I’ll tell you what happened: the people of Northern Ireland were ignored in that consultation.

“In the Assembly vote last week, 76 out of 90 Members, including members of the Alliance party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the sister party of the Labour party, voted not only with matters that my party brought forward but with other amendments that rejected these regulations…They were ignored. They were thrown to the side.”

A lack of respect

Carla Lockhart MP started her speech by saying that respect should be at the centre of debate surrounding the imposition of extreme abortion regulations on Northern Ireland, saying: “I believe that the crux of this issue is one of respect: respect for devolution; respect for the devolved Assembly; respect for the will of the people of Northern Ireland; and respect for those with disabilities.”

“Last week, 75 out of 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly indicated that they did not support abortion for non-fatal disabilities, yet this Government proceed. To borrow a phrase, those 75 MLAs want to ‘take back control’ of abortion law. They want to defend the life of the unborn with a disability,” she added.

Carla then brought attention to her open letter calling on MPs from Great Britain to respect devolution and give the people of Northern Ireland ‘their voice back’ and allow them to decide their own abortion laws.

She revealed that since launching the letter with Baroness O’Loan, on Friday, it already has over 12,000 signatories from Northern Ireland. If the same proportion of the UK population signed a petition, that would equate to over 400,000 people.

The Upper Bann MP added that the large number of signatories “shows the depth of feeling in Northern Ireland.”

Carla then highlighted how the regulations discriminate against those with disability allowing for abortion right up to birth, whereas the limit for other babies is set at 24 weeks.

She notes that the discriminatory regulations contradict the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and thus contradicts EU law. She then questioned why the parliament in Westminster can pass legislation that is contrary to EU law when the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot.

She also questioned why there were no provisions within the regulations to help parents who want to choose life.

In her closing remarks she said: “These unamendable regulations must be rejected in its current form” and asked why the Government “are permitting the termination of lives, against the will of the Northern Ireland people.”

She added: “I would say that, on balance, the Government need to quickly recognise the errors of their way. Some 79% of the people of Northern Ireland who responded to the consultation on the regulations said no, they did not want a change in the legislation, and they wanted the Northern Ireland Assembly to act in this regard. The regulations will see the most liberal abortion laws foisted on the people of Northern Ireland. If the Government proceed, a Province that has been life affirming and values life will revert to a society that destroys life and terminates existence.”

‘Unwise, unconstitutional and unwanted’

Sir John Hayes echoed the points raised by Carla, that the people of Northern Ireland do not want an extreme abortion regime imposed on them and warned the UK Parliament not to “fly in the face of the will of the people” saying it would be “unconstitutional” and “unwise”.

Citing a recent University of Liverpool poll from February 2020, Sir John revealed that only 5% of voters in Northern Ireland want abortion to be provided up to 24 weeks’ in the province.

He then pointed to further evidence from the study which shows there is cross-community support against the extreme abortion regulations with 58% of Sinn Fein voters, and 54% of DUP voters only wanting abortion to be provided when the mothers’ life is at risk.

The Conservative MP said: “I could go on about polling, but I will simply make this point: it would be easy to assume that women took a different view from men, or that the young took a different view from those who have lived longer. In truth, women are less supportive of the regulations than men, and the young are less supportive than their parents and grandparents.”

“In Northern Ireland, the regulations are certainly unwanted,” he added.

Sir John also brought attention to how the regulations go much further than the requirements set out in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 and further than the provisions that apply in England and Wales.

He said the “deplorable” regulations, which allow disability-selective abortion right up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, cleft palate, or clubfoot, “go against all notions of equality that we expect in the 21st century”.

In his closing remarks, Sir John said: “On the grounds of devolution and promoting and protecting the interests of people with disabilities, we should reject these regulations. They are unwise, unconstitutional and unwanted.

“If that has not persuaded members of this Committee, let me finish not with my words but those of Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman with ​Down’s syndrome who, when reflecting on the regulations that I imagine some people on this Committee plan to vote for, said ‘it makes me feel like I shouldn’t exist’.”

‘Parliament must vote to reject the regulations’

Jim Shannon MP questioned why the UK Government is proceeding with imposing discriminatory disability-selective abortions when the current law in Great Britain is currently the subject of a legal challenge.

He quotes Liz Crowter, the mother of disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowter syndrome, who said: “At 24 weeks babies are viable. You cannot have a law that says it is OK to end the lives of some viable human beings because they have Down Syndrome, while saying that other viable human beings of the same age cannot be because they don’t have a disability, without saying human beings with non-fatal disabilities are worthy of less protection and are therefore less valuable.”

Jim added: “Mindful of such things, Parliament must vote to reject the regulations and ask the Government to think again.”

In his closing remarks the DUP MP added that “the Government now have the chance to extricate themselves from a catalogue of abuses and save themselves from the huge embarrassment of asking Members to vote for disability discrimination.”