Originally published in Christian Today
MPs have approved the UK Government’s extreme abortion framework for Northern Ireland despite widespread opposition in the province.
The new regulations were passed by 253 votes to 136 in the House of Commons, meaning that the fight against the changes now heads to the Northern Ireland Assembly, where MLAs are being urged to bring forward legislation to repeal them.
Right to Life UK said last night’s vote was a “defeat for pro-life campaigners and the people of Northern Ireland”.
There has been widespread opposition to the new framework, with over 18 000 people from Northern Ireland signing a letter condemning the changes. The letter was delivered to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday by disability campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome.
Under the new regulations, disability-selective abortion is available up to the point of birth, including for treatable conditions like cleft palate and clubfoot. Sex-selective abortion is permitted up to 12 weeks, and pregnancies can be ended up to 24 weeks where it is deemed that continuing the pregnancy would risk mental or physical injury to the woman.
Westminster MPs voted through the changes despite the strength of opposition in Northern Ireland, reflected in the Government consultation, where 79% of respondents said they did not want any relaxation of abortion laws in the province beyond what was previously permitted.
This was followed by a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month in which 75 out of 90 MLAs voted against provisions in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities.
Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of the Both Lives Matter campaign, said: “Words cannot express the disappointment we feel at the refusal of Westminster to respect devolution, the democratic process and the voices of the many people who live and work here.
“They have claimed sovereignty in order to introduce the termination of our children’s lives. With sovereignty comes a responsibility to protect and they have failed us.”
She called on MLAs to restore protections for the unborn, and invest in support and care services to help women continue with their pregnancy. “As a society we can no longer simply listen to the virtue-signalling of ‘trust women’,” she said.
“Systemic failings require a structural response, and we must offer better to women than abortion. We have to enable women to choose life.
“Both Lives will always matter. Our vision remains; for a people and place who value the life and health of women and unborn children and pursues the well-being of both.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) called the vote “a gross abuse of power” as it vowed to continue its campaign to repeal the laws.
Liam Gibson, SPUC’s Northern Ireland political officer, said: “The right to life is a God-given right shared by every member of the human family. No government, no parliament and no head of state has the authority to take away this right. Any piece of legislation which permits the killing of innocent children is illegitimate. An unjust law is no law at all.”
He warned that as “the abortion industry has been allowed to dictate the law in Northern Ireland”, it will now move to decriminalise abortion in the rest of the UK.
“We will never rest until this ruthless and illegitimate legislation is overturned. Abortion is the greatest destroyer of human life in the world today and we will never give up until this evil is brought to an end,” he said.
Nola Leach, Chief Executive of CARE (Christian Action Research Education) said: “Let’s be clear about what MPs have approved today by voting for the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Abortion Regulations.
“Abortion in Northern Ireland will be legal on demand up to 24 weeks. Up to 12 weeks, abortions will only need to be signed off by one doctor, nurse or midwife and sex-selective abortions will be permissible.
“There will not be any offence for coerced abortion, thus pregnant women who are attacked or poisoned and subsequently miscarry will receive no justice for their baby’s death.
“In short, MPs from England, Wales and Scotland have voted for abortion laws in NI that are more extreme than Great Britain. They have ignored the calls from disability campaigners like Heidi Crowter that the regulations make them feel like second class citizens.
“Sadly, these regulations will harm, not help, women and babies. We will continue to advocate for life-affirming laws that respect the right to life and provide proper support for vulnerable women experiencing a crisis pregnancy.”