Bishops call on Northern Ireland assembly to modify abortion law

Bishops call on Northern Ireland assembly to modify abortion law

In a file photo, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, center, and deputy leader Michelle O'Neill, center right, with party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, in Belfast, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, after an agreement was made to restore the Belfast-based government, three years after it collapsed in acrimony and left 1.8 million people with no regional government. Northern Ireland’s bishops have called on the assembly to reform the abortion laws imposed by the UK parliament while the Northern Ireland assembly was suspended. (Credit: Brian Lawless/PA via AP.)

Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops have called for members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly to take steps to reform the “unjust” abortion laws which went into effect on March 31.

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops have called for members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly to take steps to reform the “unjust” abortion laws which went into effect on March 31.

“As the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland, we have a responsibility to do all we can to promote a culture of care and respect for life in our society. This includes a responsibility to inform the conscience of all members of the Catholic Church and people of good will regarding the fundamental moral values at stake in the issue of abortion,” the bishops wrote in a letter to the assembly members.

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 legislate 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. A compromise was reached earlier this year, and the Northern Ireland Executive was re-formed on Jan. 11. The Northern Ireland Assembly began meeting again the same day.

The bishops called on the assembly to debate the regulations imposed by Westminster “as a matter of urgency.”

The abortion policy imposed on Northern Ireland 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.

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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. In fact, when the British government did a public consultation on the proposed abortion regulations in December, 79 percent of the people opposed changing the pro-life laws.

“While we regard this to be an unjust law, which was imposed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, we are morally obliged, wherever possible, to do all we can to save the lives of unborn children, which could be lost through abortion, and to protect mothers from the pressures they might experience at the time of an unplanned pregnancy. We trust that you recognize this to be an obligation we all share as concerned citizens and public representatives,” the bishops write.

“Insofar as they exceed the requirements of the Northern Ireland Act 2019, we urge you to take steps to formulate new Regulations that will reflect more fully the will of a significant majority of the people in this jurisdiction to protect the lives of  mothers and their unborn children,” the letter continues.

Most of the main political parties in Northern Ireland are at least nominally pro-life, with the main exception being Sinn Féin, the main Nationalist party supporting a united Ireland.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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