LEICESTER, United Kingdom – No one is obliged to cooperate with Northern Ireland’s new abortion legislation, according to the Catholic bishops of the province.

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 law went into effect in October, and although it removed the pro-life protections in Northern Ireland, it didn’t impose the restrictions on abortion that exist in England, Wales, and Scotland, meaning Northern Ireland currently has the most liberal abortion laws in the United Kingdom.

However, the Executive Formation Act mandated the creation of a new framework to provide lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland by March 31, 2020. The consultations on this framework closed on Dec. 16.

In response to the consultation, the bishops declared the new abortion law was “unjust,” and said that everyone “is morally obliged to oppose this law by conscientious objection.”

“A civil law which legitimizes the direct and intentional killing of innocent human beings by means of abortion disregards their inviolable right to life. By seeking to establish regulations and procedures to facilitate the killing of unborn children, which society exists to protect and care for, such a law undermines the common good and the equality of all persons before the law,” the bishops wrote. “Therefore, this law cannot be regarded as possessing any authentic juridical validity or any morally binding force.”

That being said, the bishops called on the new regulatory framework to provide all healthcare professionals to be given the “right to refuse to participate in any aspect of the delivery of abortion services such as consultation, administration, preparation, in addition to the direct and intentional act of abortion itself.”

They also called for pharmacists working in hospitals and pharmacies in the wider community to be able to exercise conscientious objection when asked to provide or stock medications designed to assist another person in carrying out an abortion.

“Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected from legal penalties, disciplinary proceedings, discrimination or any adverse impact on career prospects. Obstetrics and gynecology must not become the domain of only those doctors and other medical staff who are willing to participate in abortion services,” the bishops wrote.

In addition, they are “completely opposed” to any attempt to include abortion services of any kind in the schools of Northern Ireland, the majority of which are sectarian.

“With regard to Catholic schools, central to our school ethos is the promotion of the dignity and life of every human being. The provision of abortion services in our schools would be contrary to everything a Catholic school stands for with regard to respect for all citizens and the promotion of the common good. Similarly, any inclusion within the school curriculum of information about how to access abortion services would fundamentally undermine the Catholic ethos of our schools,” the bishops said.

The bishops also called on any legislation to include “appropriate counselling services and a significant time period be provided for careful reflection on the serious nature of a decision to abort the unborn child” for women considering abortion.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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