BELFAST, March 15, 2013 ( – Sinn Fein has blocked an amendment that would have shut down the illegal abortion facility opened late last year by Marie Stopes in Belfast, using a “petition of concern” and supported by two MLA’s from the Alliance and the Green Party.

The amendment was set to be debated in Stormont on Tuesday, March 12,  and was backed by 53 MLAs, including 44 unionists and nine nationalists. It was opposed by only 40 MLAs and was almost certain to pass.

Pro-life advocates in Ireland have confirmed that the move comes after Sinn Fein was “bombarded” with requests from constituents, asking them either to support, or at least allow, the amendment to proceed. Under Assembly rules, the petition of concern means the amendment cannot be passed without both a majority unionist and nationalist vote, but Sinn Fein itself is the largest nationalist party in the Assembly.


Bernadette Smyth, head of Northern Ireland’s leading pro-life lobby Precious Life, said the move by Sinn Fein is “a corruption of the democratic process.”

“Sinn Fein has now trampled upon the most basic and fundamental right – the right to life – of Ireland’s unborn babies,”  she said.

She added, “History will record this shameful episode when an attempt was made to close the first private ‘abortion center’ in Ireland and strengthen the laws protecting our unborn babies, but it was blocked by Sinn Fein.”

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She said her group has already presented 250,000 petitions to the Northern Ireland Assembly before MLAs began debating the amendment, to stop Marie Stopes from aborting Irish children. She said that the 250,000 petitions were in boxes labelled “Petitions of Concern from the People of Northern Ireland.” The 30 heavy boxes, jam-packed with the petitions, had to be wheeled into Parliament Buildings in cargo trolleys pushed by Assembly porters. They were placed in the corridor outside the Assembly debating chamber, in full view of all MLAs who entered.

Patrick Buckley, the EU officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said, “By using the process of a petition of concern in this manner, Sinn Fein has expanded the use of the process beyond the purpose for which it was intended. ‘Petitions of Concern’ were designed to protect the rights of minorities within Northern Ireland to ensure one community did not trample upon the rights of another.”

The amendment, to the Criminal Code, brought forward by DUP’s Paul Givan and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, was to clarify the existing law in Northern Ireland where abortion remains illegal, making it a criminal offense to deliberately end the life of an unborn child.

It had strong support from all parties but Sinn Fein and had been thought to be a near certainty to pass. Givan said the amendment was necessary to ensure that the rare legal abortions are carried out only by the NHS, saying that it is subject to the “highest level of scrutiny.”

Marie Stopes set up the shopfront facility claiming that there is no legal barrier to provide early term “medical” or chemical abortions up to 18 or even 24 weeks gestation.

Givan said the use of the petition of concern, which required only 30 signatures, had “shamefully pre-determined” ahead of a vote that was almost certain to pass the amendment with considerably more than 30 votes. He also affirmed that there is significant support for the amendment among the public, saying, “Across the island of Ireland, we have a common bond in seeking to provide the best care for our mothers and unborn babies.”

“The NHS is where vulnerable women and their unborn babies should be treated,” Givan added, “not a private clinic making financial gain. It ensures that in terrible life-threatening circumstances the best care is provided free.”


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