BELFAST, December 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Edwin Poots, has moved to create new rules on abortion aimed at shutting down the Marie Stopes private abortion facility that opened illegally in Belfast in October. Meanwhile, a poll has shown that despite much propaganda in the secular media, there remains strong public opposition to liberalising the current law that allows abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is in serious danger from continuing the pregnancy.

Poots said that his department is considering making “legal terminations” available only in hospitals at any stage in pregnancy. This would firmly bar Marie Stopes from offering “medical” or chemical, early term abortions at their private, freestanding facility. “It may be that we only permit abortions to be carried out in a health service facility,” he said, adding that several options on regulations are being considered.

Poots said that his department is dedicated to saving, not taking lives, and that they will never bring in a regime of “social abortion” such as is available elsewhere in the UK.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on November 26th, Poots was asked “when he will publish guidelines on the medical termination of pregnancy in light of the tragedy reported in Galway.” He responded that it “would be inappropriate” to comment on the case of Savita Halappanavar, whose death has sparked demands by the international abortion lobby for the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland to legalise abortion.

Asked whether he will “do all in his power to protect the life of the unborn child,” Poots replied, “The first and foremost rule in the Department on the provision of healthcare: it is about saving lives, not taking life. I believe that that applies to those who are born and to the unborn, because we seek to save and protect life.”

He added, “We are very clear that the life of the mother has a priority here, but that is purely in those instances in which the life of the mother is under threat. 

“Some form of social abortion is not something that I will ever be bringing before the House or seeking the support of Members for, and I do not believe that if I were inclined to do so, it would receive the support of the House because it is not something that is publicly supported.”

Poots said his department is in discussion with the Royal College of Midwives to develop “a maternity strategy” which has not included discussion of abortion.

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“I know that there are people from the Royal College of Midwives who are advisers to Marie Stopes. I am of the opinion that the role of midwives is largely to ensure quality care for expectant mothers and the babies whom those expectant mothers are carrying; to ensure that they receive the best possible support throughout that pregnancy; to ensure the safe delivery of that baby; and to provide considerable support thereafter to ensure that the baby gets the best start in life, as opposed to being involved with something that is, in fact, taking the life of the unborn child.”

Marie Stopes has made the claim that abortions are legal in N. Ireland if they are committed before nine weeks of pregnancy, but Poots was forceful on the subject of the law, saying it “is clear”. The law makes no mention of abortion being legal in early stages of pregnancy.

“Abortion in Northern Ireland is regulated by criminal law, and termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland is illegal, unless there is a real and serious threat to the life of the woman, or if there is a real and serious threat to the physical or mental health of the woman that is either long term or permanent in its nature. 

“In any other circumstances, it would be unlawful to perform a procedure that terminates a pregnancy.”

Although the Belfast Telegraph claimed that a poll they commissioned showed the opposition in Stormont to liberalization of the abortion law was leaving legislators “out of step” with the public, the numbers actually suggest otherwise. The survey of 1130 adults found that 55.4 percent want the law to stay the same or be strengthened even further to protect the unborn, while a total of about 45 percent wanted some liberalization.

25.9 percent agreed with the proposal for abortion on demand, with the numbers about evenly split between Catholics (27.8%) and Protestants (28.3%). 18.6 percent believed abortion should be available in cases of pregnancy due to rape or incest.

The largest groups were strongly against abortion being liberalized, with 26.9 percent believing the law should be unchanged and 26.5 per cent saying abortion should only be allowed “if the mother is likely to die if the pregnancy continues,” a position somewhat stronger than the current law states. Two percent, all of them men, agreed with the statement, “Abortion is no better than shooting a child in the head and should be treated as murder.” This was the opinion given by John Larkin, the Attorney General, shortly before he was appointed to the post.

The Belfast Telegraph noted that all of the province’s leading political parties except Alliance, which allows a free vote on the issue, have policies strongly against changing the laws.

In the Assembly at Stormont, Poots said that his department can produce guidelines that will “help to provide clarity for obstetricians in particular situations,” but insisted that these will not change the current legal situation.

“This House is the only thing that can change the law, and, as I indicated, I will not be bringing anything before the House to change that law.” He added that he is personally glad that the law for Northern Ireland is separate from that of the rest of the UK, and that the independence of Northern Ireland’s legislature from Westminster and the full legalization of abortion are “not compatible”.

Meanwhile, the Marie Stopes facility has all but refused to participate in a legal inquiry by the Justice Committee over their appearance in October. In a letter to the committee Tracey McNeill, Marie Stopes’ UK director, issued a list of demands before agreeing to appear and give evidence. Once these demands are met, McNeill wrote, “We can arrange a mutually convenient time and place to meet.”

Justice Committee members, however called the letter “arrogant” and “impertinent” and noted that the Committee has the right to demand the presence of anyone, and refusal can be punished with up to three months in prison. 

MLA Jim Allister said, “I think it’s the height of impertinence for the Marie Stopes organisation to try and tell the committee how they should conduct whatever it is they are going to conduct.

“I think they’re showing themselves very arrogant.”

MLA Patsy McGlone, another member of the committee, said, “I would have thought first and foremost it is for the committee to determine who it calls and when they call them.

“No external body determines that. So I think they might well have started on the wrong foot there. Perhaps it’s the fact they’re new to the place.

“They should be advised that it’s for the committee to decide who it calls to give evidence.”

“The position they’re in at the moment, it’s in their best interests to cooperate with a committee of the Northern Ireland assembly,” he added.