Theresa May is facing a significant backlash from across the community in Northern Ireland against the Government’s plan to redraft the abortion clause in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to remove vital legal protections, likely ushering into Northern Ireland one of the most extreme abortion laws in Europe.
Over 15,000 people (as at Monday 14 July) have signed the letter, led by Baroness O’Loan and Lord Eames along with a group of Northern Irish Peers, MLAs and MPs. The letter also includes a number of other prominent leaders from across the community.
The group are calling on Theresa May to either pull the Bill, not allowing it to complete its remaining stage and become law, or ensure that the clause is only taken forward if the people of Northern Ireland are consulted and a majority of MLAs support the introduction of any change to abortion law.
Northern Irish peer Baroness O’Loan said:
“I am shocked to see that the Government has dropped their long-standing policy of neutrality on abortion and respect for devolution. In 2016 the Northern Assembly voted by a clear majority against changing the abortion law.
One-hundred percent of Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seats in Westminster voted against the amendment introduced by Stella Creasy. None of the MPs who voted for it represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. These and other matters form part of the current negotiations being conducted by the Government in an attempt to restore the Northern Irish Assembly – something the people of Northern Ireland are crying out for. To do this at this time is to imperil the future of those talks.
I have been inundated with messages objecting to the fact that the government is proposing to ignore the devolution settlement and amend the defective bill and support it rather than acting to respect the expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland.
Lord Eames and I have joined with a large cross-community group of leaders in Northern Ireland to make it clear that the people of Northern Ireland will not stand for this. We are calling on Theresa May to either scrap the Northern Ireland Bill in its present form or ensure that the clause is only taken forward, if the people of Northern Ireland are consulted and a majority of MLAs support the introduction of an extreme abortion law to Northern Ireland.”
Carla Lockhart, Democratic Unionist Party MLA for Upper Bann said:
“The amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill on abortion, passed last week in the commons, are deeply troubling. I am encouraged that so many peers, MPs and citizens of Northern Ireland have been motivated to action by this letter. I hope that these amendments are dropped from the bill or at the very least the people and politicians of Northern Ireland are consulted before any far-reaching changes are made.”
Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of Both Lives Matter said:
“There is no doubt that this is a critical moment when it comes to the future of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. We are incredibly encouraged by the number of people, who live and work here, who have signed their names to this letter. The fact that such prominent figures from outside of politics; people like singer/songwriter Malachi Cush, Peter Quinn ex-president of the Gaelic Athletic Association, and senior economist and former UUP MLA Dr Esmond Birnie are fully endorsing this, shows that democracy matters. Our laws and culture mean that over 100,000 people are alive here today because we did not go down the same path as England in 1967 when it comes to abortion. No matter what happens in the days and weeks ahead we will continue to work for the life, health and dignity of both women and their unborn children.”
On Wednesday the Government announced in the House of Lords that it had identified the current abortion clause introduced by Stella Creasy would not introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland.
On Friday the Government announced that it would be drafting it’s own secondary legislation to introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland.
In Parliament on Tuesday however the sponsor of the amendment , Stella Creasy made it very clear that she intended the scope of the amendment to be limited. This included explicitly linking her amendment to section 26 Northern of the Northern Ireland Act (respecting international obligations) (col 180) and to respecting international obligations (Col 183). She also explicitly said it was drafted in the terms of a statutory instrument under the Northern Ireland Act (col 181). Both of these making it clear that the clause was intended to be limited. Similarly, she referred to the concerns, raised by Ian Paisley, about the far reaching implications of the Clause as “myths to be dispelled” (col 181)
On Friday it appeared the Government did not share her view that the clause should be limited and were actively taking measures to side-step devolution and impose abortion on demand directly on Northern Ireland.
This move appears not only to be unpopular here but also among Conservative grassroots. ComRes polling released this morning showed that 67% of Conservative Councillors believed that abortion should remain a devolved isssue and that Westminster should not act to impose abortion on Northern Ireland. The poll is likely an accurate proxy of sentiment among grassroots Conservatives. This could pose further issues for the incoming Prime Minister who will have to deal with a deeply unpopular change in policy initiated by Theresa May.
It is also possible that there would be a far higher percentage against this move if they were asked whether they would support the Conservative Government scrapping it’s neutral position on abortion and introducing Government secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland.
Recent polling in Northern Ireland from ComRes also shows that strong majorities of people do not want abortion impose on Northern Ireland. The polling showed that 66% of women and 70% of 18-34 year olds in Northern Ireland do not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
In the debate in the Commons on Monday, Northern Irish MPs spoke of receiving 100’s of emails and contact from constituents in person on the isssue asking them not to support Wesminster imposing abortion on Northern Ireland.
On Monday, in the House of Lords Peers have brought forward a number of amendments designed to block attempts to change abortion law in Northern Ireland from Westminster.
These include a motion from Northern Ireland peer Lord Morrow calling for the abortion clause to be removed from the Bill and an amendment from Baroness O’Loan requiring that the community in Northern Ireland be consulted, and a majority of MLAs must approve any legislation before it is laid before Parliament in Westminster.
- For additional quotes and media interviews contact: Dawn McAvoy (07976 414817).
- ComRes interviewed 510 Conservative Councillors online between 21st and 22nd June 2019. Data were weighted to be representative of all Conservative Councillors in Great Britain adults by region, council type and length of service. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
- Baroness O’Loan’s full letter is available at the bottom of the page here: https://righttolife.org.uk/news/15000-from-northern-ireland-sign-open-letter-to-object-to-gov-forcing-abortion-on-the-region/
- Full details on the proposed law change and the impact of repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act are available here: https://righttolife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Parliamentary-briefing-Abortion-amendment-to-Northern-Ireland-Executive-Formation-Bill-10-July-2.pdf
- If the amendment is successful in forcing the UK Government to remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against The Person Act, this would introduce abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks to Northern Ireland. This could also have repercussions for the operation of sections 58 and 59 in England and Wales, possibly resulting in widespread changes to abortion legislation in England and Wales, removing almost all legal safeguards around abortion.
- This would leave Northern Ireland, England, and Wales with one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world and they would be out of line with legislation in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.
- The change would potentially lead to significant numbers coming across the border for abortions from the Republic of Ireland where, post-referendum, abortion is restricted in most cases to 12 weeks gestation. It is also possible that there would be traffic from a number of other countries in Europe as the median gestational time limit for most abortion among EU countries is 12 weeks.
- Abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, club foot and cleft palate would be introduced to Northern Ireland:
- In England and Wales, the latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Northern Ireland has a very different approach. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is not permitted and there is a culture of welcoming and supporting people with this disability rather than eliminating them.
- This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland showing that there were 52 children with Down’s syndrome born, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales.
- Lord Shinwin spoke out on this in the Lords last year when Stella Creasy made a similar attempt to change the law.
- Polling from ComRes shows that 66% of women and 70% of 18-34 year olds in Northern Ireland do not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
- The Northern Ireland Assembly has considered the issue of abortion much more recently than any other parliament in the United Kingdom. In 2016, a clear majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including both Unionists and Nationalists, upheld the law on abortion as it currently stands.
- 100,000 report – As a result of Northern Ireland’s unique law and culture, it is estimated, using robust statistical methods, that over 100,000 people are alive today in Northern Ireland because it did not enact the 1967 Abortion Act.
- This is equal to 5% of the total population of Northern Ireland. One in ten people under 50 are alive because of Northern Ireland’s distinctive laws. This equates to 100 classrooms every year (based on an average classroom of 25 children)
- This claim has been robustly investigated over a 5 month period by the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) andupheld.
- The ASA found: “on balance we concluded that the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so.”