Dear MPs and Peers from England, Wales and Scotland,
Please Give Us Back Our Voice
On 9 July 2019, when Parliament voted to undermine devolution and change abortion law in Northern Ireland, 100% of our MPs who take their seats in the Westminster Parliament were present and they all voted against the change in the law. Most NI Peers also opposed the proposed changes. Their votes, however, were nullified by the far more numerous votes of MPs and Peers from other parts of the UK who decided to vote to change the law. In that moment, it was not only our MPs who were silenced but also the people of Northern Ireland who elected them. We were effectively disenfranchised on an issue of great importance to us. In a context where there are English votes for English laws the failure to afford the same courtesy to Northern Ireland on ‘Northern Ireland only laws’ makes us feel very second class.
Today as we approach the vote on the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations, tabled pursuant to that legal change, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been restored for nearly five months and on 2 June it voted by an absolute majority to reject the regulations. Moreover, in two votes, 75 of our 90 MLAs voted to make it clear that they do not support the provisions in the Regulations that permit abortion on the basis of non-fatal disability up till birth. In this context, where the Assembly has been restored and has voted in this way, it is now even more inappropriate that Westminster should be about to vote again on a devolved matter.
The 2 June vote was the first time that a view was expressed by our representatives in the NI Assembly since the passing of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. This was our devolved Assembly, voting on a devolved issue, and their view - our view - should be respected. These Regulations should not be affirmed because of the opposition which exists to them in NI, because they do not reflect the current views of the NI Assembly, and because the Attorney General for NI, the chief legal adviser to the NI Executive, has expressed the view that some of the Regulations are ultra vires because they seek to make laws which are not consistent with the requirements of the NI Act 1998. This is a view which has been supported by many others including a number of eminent QCs.
As we approach this vote, we realise, after the experience of last July, that it is not enough for us to write to our own MPs and Peers. We are now compelled to write to you because, even though you have no mandate to represent us, it is your votes, and not the votes of the MPs we have elected in Northern Ireland, and of Northern Ireland's Peers, that will determine whether this law passes or falls. Today, therefore, we ask you either to vote against these unamendable Regulations, thus reflecting the views of the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives, as expressed in Parliament on 9 July last year and in the Assembly this week, or to abstain so that you don’t render null and void the effect of the votes of the NI MPs in Parliament whom we actually elected, thereby disenfranchising us, or the votes of most NI Peers, on this Northern Ireland only legislation.
We draw your special attention to just one aspect of the Regulations, Regulation 7 (1) (b) which allows abortion between 24 weeks gestation and birth for non-fatal disabilities like Down's syndrome. This law gives viable human beings no protection in law, so that their lives can be ended, because they have conditions like Down's syndrome, while affording other viable human beings, of exactly the same age, protection so their lives cannot be ended because they are not disabled. This is blatantly contrary to the CEDAW Committee report which defines the basis upon which any Government action must be taken and specifies that legal change must be made ‘without perpetuating stereotypes.’
In 2009 the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Protection is provided in law for those with disabilities. In this context it seems quite extraordinary that the Government should propose Regulation 7 (1) (b) in 2020 as if the last thirty years have not happened. Disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down's syndrome and is currently challenging the thirty year old UK law in the courts, said after the Assembly vote: ‘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.’
Please give us back our voice and respond with respect to the people of NI and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which voted against these Regulations on 2 June 2020, either by voting against the Regulations or, if you can't do that, by abstaining, not nullifying the voices of the MPs whom we elected to represent us, and the Peers from Northern Ireland.