Parliament abortion fight now moves onto the Lords

MPs voted 332 – 99 in favour of undermining the sovereignty of Northern Ireland by voting for an amendment which has the potential to lead to widespread changes to abortion legislation in Northern Ireland and possibly also England and Wales.

Yesterday evening (Tuesday 08/07), several abortion related amendments were chosen to be debated in relation to a Bill intended to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. A number of MPs were deeply critical of the fact that these amendments were accepted by the Chair of the debate, Dame Eleanor Laing MP. The abortion amendments were not related to the substance of the Bill at all and so, it was argued, were “out of scope” of the Bill.

Ian Paisley MP said during the debate: “This Bill is called the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, yet the debate has been pretty thin on how an Executive could be formed again in Northern Ireland. In fact, we have had a debate about every other ​issue under the sun except what we are supposed to be debating.”

In addition to the abortion amendments being criticised for being beyond the scope of the Bill, MPs were keen to point out that the supposed ‘right to abortion’ to which those advocating for abortion in Northern Ireland appealed, does not in fact exist: as Mr Paisley said “there is no right to abortion in any international treaties.”

Abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and pro-abortion MP, Maria Miller, made clear that she could not support these amendments because of their potentially wide reaching effects on the whole of the UK and the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. The DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, added that the amendments would “drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

In an unusual move, the Scottish National Party, which makes a point of abstaining in devolved matters (having their own devolved powers, they respect the devolved powers of other regions in the United Kingdom) abandoned its own principles and allowed a vote for its members on these amendments.

Having passed through the Committee stage with the abortion amendment accepted, the Bill will now proceed to the House of Lords in the coming days with the second reading this afternoon (10/07) and concluding with the Report stage on Wednesday (17/07).

Even if the Bill proceeds through all stages with the abortion amendment intact, the Bill contains a clause which means that should the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont return by 21 October 2019, the amendment will not have any effect and any changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland, England and Wales will not go ahead.

Press Release: Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Shows Truth Of Pro-Life Abortion Vigils

This morning, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee heard from Ealing Councillors, abortion industry representatives, and right-to-life campaigners, on the issue of alleged harassment taking place outside abortion facilities.

The proceedings illustrated that there is currently no probative evidence that has been presented of harassment taking place outside abortion facilities, whether in Ealing, Portsmouth, Birmingham, or elsewhere in the country. All that is presented is hearsay by abortion lobby groups who claim to speak on behalf of women going for abortions.

Last week at Birmingham City Council, a Councillor for Edgbaston in Birmingham, despite being in favour of legalised abortion, also complained about the lack of any evidence of public order disturbance outside the abortion facility in her area.

A series of individuals and groups who have either an ideological support of abortion, or a material interest in stopping pro-life vigils, have alleged women telling them of upsetting experiences outside abortion vigils, but have provided no hard evidence of any such activity going on.

When invited by Clare McCullough of Good Counsel Network to give details that could be checked and thereby proved or falsified, Marie Stopes UK representative John Hansen-Brevitti demurred, needing to be supported by pro-abortion Select Committee Chairperson Yvette Cooper MP, who throughout her own remarks considered reports of subjective upset by anyone to be evidence of harassment. This instead of more objective criteria and substantive proof of the truth of such allegations.

Despite this dearth of evidence, abortion advocates on the Committee and in front of it tried to twist it in their favour. Rather than a lack of prosecution evidencing a lack of prosecutable behaviour, it was taken by them as evidence that the police did not have the powers or confidence to arrest genuinely harassing behaviour. When McCullough pointed out that shouting outside abortion facilities was from aggressive pro-abortion protesters ‘Sister Supporter’, Cooper took this as evidence that no group at all should be allowed outside abortion facilities, rather than just those who cause disturb public order.

By contrast, right-to-lifers McCullough and Antonia Tully pointed to the burden of proof on abortion advocates to substantiate their claims, and also offered alternative testimony from hundreds of women who have been positively affected by Good Counsel Network. Cooper ruled such evidence irrelevant.

The Committee hearing excellently showed the substance-less attempts by the abortion lobby to justify their illiberal aim of using draconian ‘buffer zones’, whether through locally-imposed Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) or national legislation, to chill free speech and the right to free assembly, both of which are guaranteed under Common Law and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It also showed the dignity and seriousness with which pro-life vigil organiser McCullough answered the falsehoods and misinterpretations put before her.

RTL Executive Officer Peter D. Williams said:

“The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee hearing his morning was very illustrative of the truth of this issue.

On the one hand, it exposed the utter lack of probative evidence that the abortion lobby has to justify its campaign to shut down pro-life vigils through illiberal buffer zones, imposed either locally or nationally. The lengths to which abortion advocates will go to close down their opposition is astonishing in its mendacity.

On the other hand, we saw the real story of what abortion vigils intend, and do. So far from being hostile and angry, they are loving and peaceful. They almost always are about offering help and practical support for women who would often actually like to keep their babies, but feel they have no option to do so. Such vigil keepers do not attack or shame women. Allegations that they try to force women to accept leaflets, or block entrances, or shout at women, are without  meaningful foundation.

More generally, the hearing also showed the need for us to have a serious discussion in this country about the importance of free speech and assembly vs. the purported right of people not to be offended. On university campuses as now outside abortion facilities, some politicians and groups are tying to shut down certain forms of activism, even charitable ones, on the basis that others will perceive them to be upsetting or harassing. That is a ludicrous notion, and could undermine our status as a free and open society.

One excellent way to maintain our liberal and democratic traditions is to oppose buffer zones and any effort like them that uses evidence-bereft and slanderous hearsay to dishonestly justify the closing down of peaceful vigils that simply try to help women who feel abortion is their only ‘choice’”.