Lords Committee critical of extreme NI abortion regime in second report

A highly influential House of Lord’s Committee has again criticised the Government’s approach to imposing abortion on Northern Ireland.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which scrutinises legislation parliament has granted the Government power to introduce, has released a new report highlighting even more concerns with the extreme regulations.

Chief among the Committee’s new criticisms is that neither the current set nor the former set of abortion regulations, imposed on Northern Ireland, have been introduced without the scrutiny or approval of MPs or Peers.

The report notes that while “no services have been formally commissioned in Northern Ireland” some abortion provision has been made available, as confirmed by a recent disclosure which revealed at least 129 babies have been aborted under the new extreme abortion regime.  

It suggests MPs may wish to press the Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker, about the extent of the service provision since 1 April 2020 – something they will have a chance to do later today (Monday 8 June 2020).

The House of Lords Committee also raises significant concerns from the Lord Brennan QC, and leading barrister, 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.

In addition to the submissions made in the first report, which highlighted overwhelming opposition to the regulations and condemned how they came about, this second report references further critical submissions.

Abortions for cleft lip?

Following the launch of a Bill seeking to clarify cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot are not grounds for abortion, new submissions from Carla Lockhart MP and Sir Edward Leigh MP have highlighted how the extreme regulations in Northern Ireland won’t prevent abortions being performed for such conditions.

Carla Lockhart said: “This is discrimination based solely on disability… I believe human being extends to those in the womb (notably, the term is more expansive than the term ‘person’ which some suggest does not cover those in the womb), and allowing abortion for disability clearly does not treat those in the womb with disabilities equally.”

Sir Edward Leigh said: “As a Member of Parliament for England, I find it incredibly distressing that the UK Government legally permits disability-selective abortion at a time period where the law recognises that babies are capable of being born alive. What makes this worse is that the UK Government is imposing a similar discriminatory law on Northern Ireland.”

‘Women are less protected’ 

In a separate submission, Lord Brennan QC highlights how protections for women from being coerced into abortions have been weakened with the new regulations and open them up to coercive abortions. 

He said: “Women are less well protected from coercive abortions in Northern Ireland today than anywhere else in the UK. Moreover, they are far from compliant with Article 39 of the Istanbul Convention which requires signatories to prohibit coercive abortion. 

“Again, the fact that these Regulations inexplicably do not deal properly with coercive abortion makes them politically and legally important. These Regulations consequently give rise to issues of public policy that are certain to be of interest to the House.”

Lack of conscience protections is discriminatory

Lord Brennan, Lord Alton, Baroness O’Loan and pro-life groups Both Lives Matter and NI Voiceless have all highlighted the lack of adequate conscience protections in the legislation. It could mean some healthcare professionals could be forced to participate in abortion procedures or face losing their jobs.

Lord Alton of Liverpool said the new legislation discriminates against doctors, healthcare professionals, administrative and managerial staff and puts them

in a position where they may be disadvantaged in their employment opportunities because of their views on abortion.

Abuse of power

Right To Life UK also raised a number of problems with the regulations, showing how “the UK Government went far beyond what they were legally required to when laying these regulations, despite the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive in January”.

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

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

“They 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.  

“This influential Committee has twice chosen to draw these regulations to the special attention of the House, reporting on a number of serious issues with the regulations.

“MPs at Westminster must take on board these criticisms, as they debate the regulations today ahead of a vote later this month.”

129 babies aborted in Northern Ireland under extreme abortion regime

At least 129 unborn babies have been aborted in Northern Ireland under the extreme abortion regime imposed on the province, it has been revealed.

The tragic figure was released by Health Minister Robin Swann in response to a written question from MLA Paul Givan.

The pro-life MLA asked how many abortion notifications Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer had received since the regulations came into force.

In his reply the Health Minister said that 129 such notifications had been received between 31 March and 22 May.

Sadly, the figure is likely to be even higher as the Health Minister further disclosed that those performing a termination ‘service’ in the province had up to 14 days to send a notification. It means that some abortions performed before 22 May and all performed after 22 May won’t be included this figure.

The new regime, which came into force on 31 March, allows abortion up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Abortion is available de-facto on demand through to 24-weeks and available on-demand, without conditionality, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for the first time in the UK, allowing for sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand

On Tuesday, MLAs at the Northern Ireland Assembly voted by 46 votes to 40 to pass a motion stating the Northern Ireland Assembly’s opposition to the extreme abortion regime.

Then, on Thursday, just two days after the vote in Northern Ireland, a large group of cross-party MPs raised a multitude of concerns over the regulations with the Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker MP.

Among others, questions were raised over whether the UK Government really had an obligation to impose such an extreme abortion regime and over the “deep flaws” in the regulations which make it one of the “most liberal abortion laws in Europe”.

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

However, in response to these various questions, Robin Walker MP repeatedly reiterated the claim that the Conservative Government had obligations to deliver abortion in Northern Ireland.

Additionally, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has declared the UK Government will not change the regulations despite Tuesday’s vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Thursday’s debate.

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

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

This week, Northern Irish Peer Baroness O’Loan and Northern Irish MP Carla Lockhart have joined forces to facilitate an open letter to all MPs and Peers across the UK from the people of Northern Ireland.

The letter asks these MPs and Peers not to disenfranchise the people in Northern Ireland – the only people who will be impacted by the law – by drowning out and undermining the voices of their representatives.

This follows the last Westminster vote on Northern Ireland’s abortion regulations in July 2019, in which 100% of Northern Irish MPs present voted against the legislation. However, abortion was imposed on Northern Ireland regardless because of the greater number of English, Welsh and Scottish MPs, enforcing their different view on the province.

Baroness O’Loan and Carla Lockhart are now asking the public in Northern Ireland to join them by putting their names on the open letter which asks British MPs and Peers to respect devolution by either voting to give the final say back to the Northern Ireland Assembly or, if they feel unable to do this, to abstain from voting on the matter.

The MP and Peer have also asked the public to help them get as many names as possible on the letter ahead of the Regulations being debated in the Houses of Commons and the House of Lords.

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

“Tragically, the extreme abortion regime being forced upon the people of Northern Ireland has already resulted in the abortion of at least 129 unborn babies.

“Northern Ireland is a country where 100,000 people are alive today because they chose to protect unborn babies over accepting the same abortion law that was introduced into Britain in 1967.

“If it wasn’t already clear, the actions of this past week show the people of Northern Ireland do not want these extreme abortion regulations imposed on them.

“The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose abortion on Northern Ireland,

“Yet, Government officials have revealed they will continue to ignore the will of the people of Northern Ireland and continue regardless.

“The best way of preventing them is if the Government loses its coming vote on the regulations and does the right thing in handing back the decision to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This joint letter by Baroness O’Loan and Carla Lockhart will help persuade MPs this is the right thing to do and we, therefore, would encourage many people to sign it and share it.”

Carla Lockhart and Baroness O’Loan launch open letter to stop extreme abortion regime

Northern Irish Peer Baroness O’Loan and Northern Irish MP Carla Lockhart have joined forces to launch an open letter urging MPs and Peers from England, Wales and Scotland to give the people of Northern Ireland ‘their voice back’ and allow them to decide their own abortion laws.

It comes after MLAs voted by 46 votes to 40 to pass a motion stating the Northern Ireland Assembly’s opposition to the extreme abortion regime imposed on the province.

The letter asks MPs and Peers, who will all have a vote in determining Northern Ireland’s abortion law within the next ten days, not to disenfranchise the people in Northern Ireland (the only people who will be impacted by the law) by drowning out and undermining the voices of their representatives.

This follows the last Westminster vote on Northern Ireland’s abortion regulations in July 2019, in which 100% of Northern Irish MPs present voted against the legislation.

However, abortion was imposed on Northern Ireland regardless because of the greater number of English, Welsh and Scottish MPs, enforcing their different view on the province.

In addition, 79% of respondents to a Government consultation on the issue stated clear opposition to any changes in the province’s abortion legislation.

Now, Baroness O’Loan and Carla Lockhart are asking the public in Northern Ireland to join them by putting their names to their open letter which asks British MPs and Peers to respect devolution by either voting against the extreme abortion regulations or, if they feel unable to do this, to abstain from voting on the matter.

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

The pro-life DUP MP and former police commissioner for Northern Ireland have also asked the public to help them get as many names as possible on the letter ahead of the Regulations being debated in the Houses of Commons (8 June) and the House of Lords (15 June).

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on the province.

The new regime, which came into force on 31 March, allows abortion up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome.

Abortion is available de-facto on demand through to 24-weeks and available on-demand, without conditionality, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for the first time in the UK, allowing for sex-selective abortion to be available on-demand

Yesterday, a large group of cross-party MPs raised a multitude of concerns over the regulations with the Minister for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker MP.

Among others, questions were raised over whether the UK Government really had an obligation to impose such an extreme abortion regime and over the “deep flaws” in the regulations which make it one of the “most liberal abortion laws in Europe”.

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

However, in response to these various questions Robin Walker MP repeatedly reiterated the claim that the Conservative Government had obligations to deliver abortion in Northern Ireland.

Additionally, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has declared the UK Government will not change the regulations despite Tuesday’s vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly and yesterday’s debate.

Baroness O’Loan and Carla Lockhart are hopeful that a significant number of people from Northern Ireland signing this open letter will convince MPs and Peers to reject the regulations and “give the people of Northern Ireland their voice back”.

During yesterday’s debate, Carla Lockhart, who has an early day motion supporting Fiona Bruce’s Bill against disability-selective abortion for cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot, said:

“This Government, whether we like it or not, is continuing to ride roughshod over the devolved administration in Northern Ireland. It is discriminating against people who have non-fatal disabilities, and is going far beyond its legal requirement and has implemented the most liberal abortion laws in the whole of Europe.”

The Upper Bann MP, who used her maiden speech as an MP to defend the right to life of unborn babies, said: “Both lives matter. It is not just about the woman’s health, it is about both lives.

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

Baroness Nuala O’Loan has previously told Irish News it would be “very wrong” if the extreme abortion regime was “approved without proper consideration and without taking into account the views of the people of Northern Ireland”.

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.

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

“If it wasn’t already clear, the actions of this past week show the people of Northern Ireland do not want these extreme abortion regulations imposed on them.

“The UK Government and Westminster now have absolutely no mandate whatsoever to impose abortion on Northern Ireland,

“Yet, Government officials have revealed they will continue to ignore the will of the people of Northern Ireland and continue regardless.

“The best way of preventing them is if the Government loses its coming vote on the regulations and does the right thing in handing back the decision to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This joint letter by Baroness O’Loan and Carla Lockhart will help persuade MPs this is the right thing to do and we, therefore, would encourage many people to sign it and share it.”

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

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

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

No obligation to impose extreme abortion regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people of Northern Ireland have been ignored

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

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

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

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

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

Profound lack of respect for the people of Northern Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regulations go further than required

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Most liberal abortion laws in Europe’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Undermining devolution 

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

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

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

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

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

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