By Hilary White

BELFAST, March 27, 2008 ( – Pro-life groups in Northern Ireland warn that attempts to force Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) bill into the country could result in a constitutional crisis. Northern Ireland’s pro-life group, Precious Life, said the bill could be used to bring abortion into Northern Ireland by the back door against the wishes of the majority of the country’s people.

Ian Paisley, the First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has also warned British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the Labour government’s bill must not be used to bring legalized abortion into Northern Ireland. Paisley said that the matter is one for the Northern Ireland Assembly, not Westminster to decide. Paisley reminded Brown that all political parties in Northern Ireland are opposed to the bill.

The HFE bill contains provisions that could allow amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act that could spill over into Northern Ireland.

Precious Life’s director, Bernadette Smyth, cited a 2007 petition, signed by 120,000 people that helped to pass an Assembly motion opposing abortion. This sent “a clear message that the Northern Ireland Assembly opposes any attempt to liberalise the law on abortion,” she said. “It would cause a constitutional crisis if Westminster was now to over-ride the motion passed by the Assembly and legalise abortion in Northern Ireland without the consent of the people.”

Precious Life has campaigned against the HFE bill since January, distributing thousands of postcard petitions calling on the Secretary and Minister of State – Shaun Woodward and Paul Goggins – “to ensure Westminster acknowledges the clear pro-life message sent out from our Assembly”. Smyth said that the group will be stepping up their efforts.

Smyth said, “Gordon Brown must acknowledge Northern Ireland ‘s opposition to abortion. Westminster cannot be allowed to over-ride the democratic process here by attempting to impose abortion on Northern Ireland . The law here regarding abortion must be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly only.”

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