Abortion is a sensitive and complex issue which is why decisions around it are devolved.

Carla Lockhart is a Lurgan based DUP MLA for Upper Bann. Here she challenges the attempt by some Westminster MPs to include a number of changes to Northern Irish law within a piece of legislation designed to push back the current deadline.

Over the course of the next few days the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill will be passing through the House of Commons. This Bill is designed to amend the date by which the Secretary of State must call an election.

The purpose is to allow party political talks to continue in efforts to form an Executive.

Several MPs at Westminster are attempting to amend this piece of legislation to push through potentially huge changes on sensitive social polices around abortion and same-sex marriage. These issues are completely outside of the scope of the Bill. 

Abortion is a sensitive and complex issue which is part of the reason why decisions around it are devolved.

Meddling in such a sensitive issue at such a sensitive moment would potentially set a constitutional precedent which could affect the devolution settlement in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland again in future, on a whole range of issues. In short these moves are constitutionally insensitive and inappropriate.

The Northern Irish public have not been consulted upon around the detail of any amendments that may be tabled and this is not the way to pass legislation on sensitive social issues.

The irony is that in a recent inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee at Westminster 88% of submissions said no to Westminster imposing law change on abortion in Northern Ireland.

Just last year a ComRes poll year showed that two-thirds of women (and 70% of 18-34 year olds) in Northern Ireland don’t want abortion laws imposed by Westminster.

Another ComRes poll from last year showed that 72% of Conservative Party MPs did not support the imposition of abortion laws on Northern Ireland from Westminster.

Existing law in Northern already allows for abortion in carefully limited circumstances. Contrary to many reports these circumstances have included instances of sexual crime (as per the Bourne case) and where the baby may not survive beyond birth.

This more limited law has led us to estimate that over 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today because politicians here did not implement the 1967 Abortion Act. This figure was researched by the Both Lives Matter campaign and robustly tested and upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Behind many of these moves to widen abortion law in Northern Ireland is the idea that abortion is the measure of progress for women in society. The changes proposed are often dressed around the hard cases but limited law change is never enough; that is not where the campaign for abortion is going.

The ultimate destination is based on the ideology that women are only as free as their ability to end the lives of their unwanted unborn children. This is a tragic vision for women where their ‘freedom’ can only be achieved by the devaluing of every future human being.

Many people see a much more positive vision for women and their unborn children. One where both lives are respected and can flourish together as far as humanly possible.

The abortion laws in Northern Ireland may not be perfect, maybe abortion laws will never be, but they hold together the life, health and dignity of both human beings in a careful and delicate relationship.

This is something we should be celebrating as foundational to our way of life together here as Catholic, Protestant and those of no faith. It is too important to become a political football or circumvented by clever politicking at Westminster.    


The ComRes data referred to in the article can be found here.

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