Pro-life campaign group Right to Life has announced plans to take the government to court ahead of extreme abortion laws set to be introduced in Northern Ireland ahead of 31 March.
The organisation this week sent a pre-action notice to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, warning that if the government introduces abortion framework that surpasses what is legally required, then the pro-life group will be taking legal action.
The notice says that if the government proceeds to implement its current proposed framework, it will be acting unlawfully and be susceptible to judicial review.
What is legally required?
The 2019 Northern Ireland Act states that the Government may introduce a limited abortion framework in Northern Ireland ahead of the 31 March deadline. However, the passing of this legislation was itself controversial, as the amendments to introduce abortion and same-sex marriage were added on to the initial scope of the bill to help keep Northern Ireland running in the absence of a devolved government.
Ahead of the deadline, the government launched a consultation on a proposed abortion framework, which goes far beyond the limited changes the government must now comply with. If the proposed framework is implemented, it could have far-reaching consequences to rights of conscience, safeguards for the unborn child, the right to protest abortion and even late term abortion.
Abortion on demand
The proposed framework opens up abortion provision to any healthcare professional, including pharmacists, nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, art therapists and dieticians, says Right to Life. It also drops the requirement that two doctors must sign off on an abortion.
The proposal includes virtually no legal limit on the locations that abortion could take place, which potentially allows for the home use of both abortion pills and other medical procedures.
In practice, terminations would be available on demand up to either 22 or 24 weeks under mental health grounds. Abortion without certification could be available up to either 12 or 14 weeks, allowing sex-selective abortions to take place. Abortions for disabilities, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, would also all be allowed, available up to birth.
Northern Irish people don’t want extreme abortion imposed
However, a poll organised by the University of Liverpool and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council has shown that 58% of Sinn Féin voters and some 54% of DUP voters want their country’s new abortion framework to only allow a terminations when the mother’s life is at risk.
Only 5% of all voters support introducing abortion through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, as outlined in the proposed framework.
Devolution must be respected
Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK, commented:
“The UK Government has proposed introducing an extreme abortion framework to Northern Ireland, which goes far beyond what it is legally required to introduce.
“With Stormont restored, it is vital that the people of Northern Ireland have a say on their country’s new abortion framework through their elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is therefore only appropriate that the Government introduce only the minimum that is legally required to comply with the Act, and leave any other changes to the law to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“If the UK Government pushes ahead with their extreme abortion framework proposals, they would be acting unlawfully and would be undermining the devolution settlement at a time when it is already fragile.
“To stand up for the devolution settlement; to show that they are listening to the voters of Northern Ireland; to be consistent with their party’s own position; and ultimately, to protect the unborn child and women facing unplanned pregnancies, we urge the Government to drop their proposed extreme abortion framework for Northern Ireland, and only implement what that they are legally bound to do.”
Republished by permission of Christian Concern.