MPs have voted 328 – 65 to force more extreme abortion laws on Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.
The vote took place yesterday (18/07) in the final stages of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. MPs cast a single vote for a group of amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill which included a radical abortion amendment that was added in the House of Lords. The vote against was lower than the vote on the Creasy amendment last week, this is likely because the group of amendments included a number of other issues.
This focus now moves to Northern Ireland where, should the Executive in Stormont reform before October 21st, it is possible that all amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill could be rejected.
Nigel Dodds said: “[This amendment] makes abortion legal for absolutely any reason, including gender and disability, until a legal presumption of 28 weeks.”
This assessment is based on the fact that the amendment seeks to remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861), which protects unborn life. In which case, the only legal protection for unborn children left would be the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 which only applies from 28-weeks gestation. This, would make abortion readily available for any reason – including discriminatory abortions based on gender and disability – up until 28 weeks.
This would make the abortion law in Northern Ireland more extreme than in the rest of the UK where abortion is available until 24 weeks and, as an important safeguard, must be signed off by two doctors. No such requirement would exist if this abortion amendment passes in Northern Ireland.
The amendments have been heavily criticised across both Houses of Parliament for being out of scope of the Bill, which was supposed to be concerned with extending the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland.
During the debate Ian Paisley MP said the Bill has been “hijacked” by these amendments, adding that it was “an outrage to common decency in Northern Ireland.”
A number of other MPs and Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, criticised the fact that, due to the fast-tracking of this Bill – it proceeded through both Houses of Parliament in only two weeks – there was a lack of public and parliamentary scrutiny, as well as little substantive discussion on abortion itself.
Bruce pointed out that 100,000 people are alive today because Northern Ireland did not adopt the 1967 Abortion Act – a figure backed up by the Advertising Standards Association – and that in just four days, over 19,000 people residents of Northern Ireland signed a letter objecting to the imposition of abortion on the region in this manner.
“If we read that across to the British mainland, that is the equivalent of 500,000 signing a petition in a matter of four days,” Paisley added
Paisley, along with a number of other MPs, criticised the manner in which the abortion amendment was forced onto this Bill saying it was undemocratic, an attack on devolution and lacking proper scrutiny.
Fiona Bruce MP added:
“The way in which the issue of abortion and, indeed, the Bill has been handled has been, I believe, unconstitutional, undemocratic, legally incoherent and utterly disrespectful to the people of Northern Ireland, yet the Government are pressing on today with just a derisory one hour’s debate. That is despite the fact that abortion is a devolved policy area and a hugely controversial issue, and despite the shamefully limited scrutiny time we have already had.”
Deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds, echoed concerns regarding devolution saying:
“Either we have direct rule and legislate on all those areas, or we respect devolution—we cannot have it both ways…”
Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:
“The people of Northern Ireland have thirteen weeks to stop the introduction of one of the worlds most extreme abortion regimes to the province.
“Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland are deeply angered and distressed by this action by the Westminster Parliament. The manner in which MPs from Westminster have attempted to impose abortion on a people that do not want it, and who they do not represent, is grossly disrespectful and unconstitutional.
“This horrific abortion law can be stopped. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that Stormont reconvenes in order to protect the thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost if this extreme abortion law came into effect.