LEICSTER, United Kingdom – A British member of the House of Lords is warning that Northern Ireland is about to have the most liberal abortion regime in the United Kingdom, if members of the province’s Legislative Assembly don’t put aside their differences to stop it.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan on Sunday said only elected representatives “working in the Assembly can stop this appalling situation.”
In July, the pro-life protections in Northern Ireland were removed in a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, that had the primary function of dealing with the exercise of government functions in Northern Ireland, since the power-sharing agreement collapsed in January 2017. The amendments would also impose same-sex marriage in the North, which is already legal in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
This legislation could be stopped if the political parties in Northern Ireland could resolve their differences and restore the Northern Ireland Assembly to take over governance of the province before midnight on Oct. 21.
A meeting of the Assembly is taking place on Monday, but members from the two largest Catholic parties –Sinn Féin, long seen as the political arm of the IRA, and the moderate SDLP – have said they will not attend.
This means it will be impossible to form the Northern Ireland government and stop the legislation.
“It took 17 minutes on 18 July for the House of Commons to receive and agree to the proposed change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Just 17 minutes. Those who passed the law did not represent us and they did not take time to work out the consequences of what they were doing,” O’Loan said.
She noted that the Westminster Act doesn’t actually include any laws regulating the conduct of individuals or institutions that provide abortion services in Northern Ireland – such laws exist in the rest of the United Kingdom.
“There will be no regulation of the activity of abortion, unlike England and Wales. There will be no regulation of the procedure – no requirement for two doctors to agree to the abortion, no requirement for counselling before the abortion, no requirement for any Registration of the fact of the abortion, unlike England and Wales,” she said.
“There will be no regulatory framework to prevent anyone carrying out an abortion outside a registered clinic provided the woman gives consent and no prescription, only medicines are used, unlike in England and Wales. A person will be able to carry out abortions in any location even though they have no medical or nursing qualifications, unlike in England and Wales,” the baroness continued.
She also said the change in law will cause “confusion” about access to abortion-inducing legislation.
Although the UK government has said that there is no expectation that family doctors will prescribe medication for early medical abortion, there is no law to say that patients could not ask for such medication. In England and Wales family doctors do not provide abortion services.
O’Loan also noted there will be no specific provision for conscientious objection to involvement in abortion by doctors, nurses or pharmacists.
Over 60,000 people have signed a petition calling Sinn Féin to ensure that the Northern Irish government is formed on Monday, since it is the largest Nationalist party in the Assembly.
According to the 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended The Troubles, the government of Northern Ireland must include representatives from both the Catholic Nationalist and Protestant Unionist communities.
However, Sinn Féin – which usually loudly protests any unilateral changes in Northern Ireland imposed from London – has been mostly silent on the issue.
It has been officially a pro-choice party since the Republic of Ireland voted to legalize abortion last year.
The SDLP and the two major Protestant parties – the traditionally militant DUP and the more moderate UUP – are all officially pro-life.
Ex- Sinn Féin member Peadar Tóibiín has accused his former party of “[lobbying] for Westminster to ride roughshod over the people of the north of Ireland and impose an abortion regime in the north of Ireland that will allow for the ending of human lives in an unprecedented way.”
In January 2019, Tóibiín founded a new All-Ireland pro-life nationalist party called Aontú.
“Sinn Féin’s role in seeking British abortion laws for the north of Ireland has been jaw-dropping for all who have the pursuit of Irish self-determination at heart. For 200 years Irish republicans have told London that they have no business legislating for Ireland,” he said Sunday.
“Sinn Féin have sold out on the most important pillar of Irish Republicanism, Irish self-determination,” Tóibiín.
The Aontú leader said that abortion targets “the most voiceless and vulnerable section of the human family,” especially ethnic minorities, baby girls, the poor and those with disabilities.
“Rather than tackling structural problems in our society, particularly those problems disproportionately faced by women, such as poverty and job insecurity, abortion provides an escape mechanism for the establishment so that they do not have to address pressing issues. Poverty and issues of resources should be confronted. Nullifying the right to life is an extremely regressive step that does nothing to alleviate the structural problems faced in society,” Tóibiín said.
O’Loan said the last-minute appeal to reform the Northern Ireland government is “no political stunt,” adding that the province needs to have its representatives working for their constituents.
“We need the Assembly to deal with what will happen to us during Brexit, to take the decisions necessary to allow our country to function again, to make our health, education and other services function properly again and most of all to stop this most radical abortion law being imposed on Northern Ireland,” she said.
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