LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops said the introduction of abortion into the province was a “a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives,” and called on people to hold their elected representatives “accountable” for the development.

The law went into effect at midnight between Monday and Tuesday and removes all explicit protection for unborn children up to the 28th week of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.

This means the restrictions on abortion that exist in the rest of the United Kingdom currently do not apply in Northern Ireland, currently giving it one of the most liberal and unregulated abortion regimes Europe.

In July, the pro-life protections in Northern Ireland were removed in a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, 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 also imposed same-sex marriage in the North, which is already legal in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The legislation could have been stopped if the Northern Ireland government – called the Executive – reformed before its implementation date. However, the traditionally Catholic parties refused to attend an emergency sitting of the province’s assembly on Monday.

The Northern Irish bishops called it “a sad day for our local democracy.”

The legislation is the most drastic intervention into Northern Ireland’s laws by London since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended “The Troubles,” the 30 years of sectarian violence which led to the deaths of over 3,500 people. The agreement calls for a devolved government in Northern Ireland, which must include representatives of both the Protestant and Catholic communities.

The government collapsed after a scandal involving subsidies to a renewable energy scheme, and the parties have been unable to come to a new power sharing agreement.

“For the past three months, with tens of thousands of others, we have been calling on our political representatives to restore the NI Assembly, not only to address the pressing economic, social, health, welfare and educational issues of these times, but especially also to debate and halt the Abortion legislation which was rushed through the Westminster Parliament in July 2019,” the bishops’ statement said.

The bishops said any human law that removes the right to life “is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative.”

“The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so. It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made,” the statement continued.

The bishops also listed other concerns with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, including questions over conscience rights for healthcare professionals, and the redefinition of marriage, allowing for same-sex marriage in the province.

“Our locally elected representatives still have the power to bring together the Assembly to deal with the introduction of this legislation and the range of other issues such as welfare, health and education that urgently demand attention for the sake of the most vulnerable in our society, especially unborn children and their mothers,” the bishops said.

“We appeal to all local parties to redouble their efforts to restore the Assembly and power-sharing Executive, to give expression to the democratic will of local citizens and to address the urgent need to build a society based on respect for the right to life and concern for those most in need, who are most affected by their ongoing failure to agree,” the statement continued.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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