LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishops in Northern Ireland say they are “saddened and dismayed” by the implementation of “one of the most liberal abortion regimes anywhere in the world.”
The UK Parliament unilaterally removed pro-life protections from Northern Ireland when it passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 in October.
Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK or the island of Ireland where abortion remained against the law; England, Scotland and Wales legalized it in 1967; the Republic of Ireland voted to remove pro-life language in a 2018 referendum.
The UK Parliament was able to legislation for abortion due to the years-long deadlock that kept a Northern Irish government from being formed, which lead to the Northern Ireland Assembly being suspended.
On March 25, the UK government announced its abortion policy for Northern Ireland, which is more liberal than the rest of the United Kingdom, allowing for abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to 24 weeks for undefined mental or physical health reasons. If an unborn child is considered disabled, abortion is allowed up to birth.
Although abortions in the rest of the UK generally must take place in hospitals and be performed by doctors, the Northern Ireland law allows abortions to take place in doctors’ offices and be performed by nurses and midwives.
The law also limits the right of conscientious objection of medical personnel in an area where both main Christian traditions object to abortion on moral grounds.
The regulations went into effect on March 31.
Noting that the people across Northern Ireland are doing all they can to preserve life amid the coronavirus pandemic, the bishops said they were “saddened and dismayed at the Government’s decision to introduce extreme regulations for the delivery of abortion services in Northern Ireland.”
The regulations also go against the results of the government’s own public consultation on the proposals, where 79 percent of respondents said they wanted no change to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.
“They go far beyond what is legally required by the Northern Ireland Act (2019), (‘the Act’), and utterly ignore the views of many citizens – women and men – who responded to the consultation exercise last December,” the March 31 statement said.
“Their implementation will facilitate one of the most liberal abortion regimes anywhere in the world. During the pandemic when so much is being done to protect lives, these regulations do not reflect the overwhelming will of most people in Northern Ireland to protect the life of every human being,” it continued.
“From this week onwards, some unborn children will be left completely defenseless. No one will be able to do anything for them once the decision to abort has finally been made. This is a disturbing prospect for our society, where the majority of people still seek to promote the values of compassion and respect for every human being,” the bishops said.
The statement said the life of “every mother and her unborn baby” matters, but the new abortion regulations “are predicated on the legal assumption that the unborn child has no rights, unless the child is wanted.”
“Every unborn baby matters regardless of age or ability, gender or background. He or she has the right to be protected in a community where everyone belongs and deserves our respect. Every woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy matters too. She has a right to be cared for within a community where she is protected from any pressure to abort her baby,” the bishops added.
The statement noted that members of the Northern Ireland Assembly “are not left entirely devoid of influence.”
The Northern Ireland Executive was re-formed on Jan. 11, and the Northern Ireland Assembly began meeting again the same day.
“Politicians and all people of good will, who recognize the extreme nature of the Regulations, should not meekly acquiesce to their promulgation,” the bishops said.
“The Regulations themselves can be debated by the Assembly and insofar as they exceed the strict requirements of the 2019 Act, new Regulations can be enacted by the Assembly. We intend to make these points in writing to our MLAs in the coming days and encourage others to do likewise,” the statement said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome