Abortion Amendments to UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill Unlikely to Come to a Vote Wednesd

By Hilary White

LONDON/BELFAST, October 20, 2008 ( – Amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, meant to liberalise Britain’s abortion law and force legalisation of abortion on Northern Ireland, are proving more difficult to have passed than expected for Parliament’s abortion campaigning MPs.

The Labour government’s HFE bill is set for third reading debate and a vote on Wednesday night, with the debate expected to run through most of the day. Sources inside Parliament have informed that all the proposed amendments related to further liberalising abortion in the United Kingdom will be moved so far down on Wednesday’s order paper that they will likely be rendered impossible to pass.

The government reportedly fears that the controversy surrounding abortion will sidetrack and bog down legislation that was meant to further Britain’s embryo and cloning research, a subject high on the Labour party’s list of priorities.

The news that the abortion issue in the HFE bill is effectively to be dropped by the House of Commons follows reports last week that ministers feared that the effort to force legal abortion on the province could derail the Northern Irish peace process.

The Telegraph reported last week that the MPs had been “privately warned by ministers” that, with the “Stormont executive close to collapse,” the move could prompt Northern Irish MLAs to withdraw from crucial negotiations over policing and justice issues. The Northern Ireland Assembly, while united on abortion, is deeply divided on negotiations related to the peace process.

Northern Irish MLAs have already warned that the attempt to force abortion into the province would trigger a constitutional crisis that could bring to an end not only the peace process but the devolved Northern Irish Assembly.

Assembly Member, Pat Ramsey (SDLP), called it “outrageous that British MPs are attempting to impose abortion against the clear wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.”

The attempt “could collapse the entire Assembly,” Ramsey told the Irish Catholic newspaper. “I don’t think there’d be much point in having an assembly where all the parties are opposed to abortion, but the British Government imposes it anyway.”

On Saturday, MP Jeffrey Donaldson told a massive pro-life rally in Belfast that should the amendment to extend the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act into the province, it would be refused by Stormont.

“If Westminster imposes the Abortion Act, as a minister in the Northern Ireland government I will not implement that law,” he said.

Donaldson, who is Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, also serves as chairman of the All-Party Pro-life Group of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He said at the rally that the attempt by a group of radical pro-abortion MPs, none of whom represent Northern Irish constituents, was an attack on the democratic process.

“Our opponents say that this issue is about equality. Well, where is the equality for the people of Northern Ireland when they can have no say over legislation that they don’t want? The Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement says that all legislation in Northern Ireland must have public consultation. There must be an impact equality assessment. Where is the public consultation?”

The Daily Telegraph confirmed late this afternoon that the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, a pro-abortion campaigner, has advised the group of six MPs who put the Northern Ireland amendment forward that the HFE bill is “not the right vehicle” to push abortion onto the province.

Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds told the House of Commons that the HFE bill was “a highly inappropriate vehicle to impose a fundamental change in relation to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.”

“Given that the communities and all parties in Northern Ireland are united on the issue, if devolution is to mean anything, the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland should be respected in that regard.”

The Telegraph also reported that at the recent Labour conference, MPs were warned at a breakfast meeting with Northern Irish politicians that they would “consider breaking off communication” with the government if the plans to legalise abortion went ahead.

In May 2008, the leaders of all four main political parties in Northern Ireland wrote to all the Westminster MPs opposing the move to impose legalisation. The letter said the law on abortion in Northern Ireland should be a matter for the Assembly only.

Amendments put forward, in addition to those concerning Northern Ireland, would allow nurses and midwives to carry out abortions and would abolish the requirement of two doctors to sign permission for abortions. One proposed amendment would force all doctors, nurses and pharmacists to prescribe, provide, dispense or administer the abortifacient “emergency contraception” or morning after pill.

Read related coverage:

Attempts to Impose Legal Abortion on Northern Ireland will Trigger Constitutional Crisis say MLAs

Read SPUC briefing paper on HFE amendments:

FREE pro-life and pro-family news.

Stay up-to-date on the issues you care about the most. Sign up today!

Select Your Edition:

You can make a difference!

Can you donate today?

Share this article