THE British government last night withdrew controversial abortion regulations for Northern Ireland before they could be put to the vote in Parliament next week.
It means that the regulations put forward by secretary of state Brandon Lewis at the end of March will not now apply.
It is understood that the strength of the challenges faced by the proposed legislation, in particular at a Lords select committee, led the government to pull the regulations.
The NIO proposals would have made abortion available on demand up to 12 weeks and up to 24 weeks for “undefined mental or physical reasons”.
Catholic bishops were among the most trenchant critics of the regulations, accusing the Westminster government of removing “protections to the life of the unborn child with chilling alacrity”.
But it turns out this is not a surrender to critics. It has been introduced to allow time to correct “some cross referencing typographical errors..” and “ does not allow for any significant changes.” This excuse reads so much like one dreamt up by the Chinese Communist Party that it must be true.
The lockdown can be blamed for a multitude of errors. If taken at face value this is one of them. More time is given though for critics to marshal their forces, although the opportunities for a rethink are very limited for regulations compared to primary legislation.
ABORTION regulations introduced in Northern Ireland remain in place despite a delay to a Westminster vote, the British Government has said.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the regulations introduced on March 31 continue to apply.
It follows confusion over a delay in parliamentary procedures which prompted claims from anti-abortion activists that the regulations had been withdrawn.
The regulations are being ‘remade’, which means introducing the same regulations back into parliament – but it does not allow for any significant changes.
A vote had been expected next week, but the NIO said a ‘remaking’ is being undertaken due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on parliamentary proceedings.
However, it is understood it will also allow for the amending of some typographical cross-referencing errors.
An NIO spokeswoman said in a statement: “Given the unprecedented situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact this has had on parliamentary proceedings, we intend to re-make these regulations on Monday May 11, giving parliament an additional 28 sitting days to consider them.
“The UK government remains under a legal obligation to implement these regulations under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.”
It is understood the ‘remaking’ will ensure that the regulations will apply continuously, and has no effect on the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland.
The regulations were introduced after Westminster last year decriminalised abortion in the north in a landmark law change amid Stormont’s absence.
They allow abortion on request for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks on the grounds that continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the woman’s physical or mental health.
Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London