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Pro-life campaigners in Northern Ireland concerned by political response to new abortion legislation

Pro-life activists say they are getting unclear messages on the province’s new abortion laws from the political party that's traditionally strongly pro-life.
Fri Dec 6, 2019 - 4:55 pm EST
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland, December 6, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pro-life campaigners in Northern Ireland have expressed concern about what they feel are unclear messages on the province’s new abortion laws from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the political party which has traditionally adopted a strong pro-life stance.

The DUP has played a crucial role in defending Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws for many years and in October they made a last ditch attempt to block the new abortion laws coming into force in the region.

Since 1967 and the passing of the UK Abortion Act, Northern Ireland has been the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion has remained presumptively unlawful. In addition to electing MPs to the UK’s parliament in Westminster, Northern Ireland also has its own devolved government in Stormont, Belfast. It has been that devolved government which, since 1967, has continually rejected attempts to introduce abortion laws into the region.

But the Northern Ireland government collapsed in 2016 when the Sinn Fein party pulled out of government. And in the absence of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, the UK government in Westminster imposed the pro-abortion legislation on Northern Ireland, with all of the Northern Ireland MPs who take their seats in Westminster voting against the bill.

The new laws were passed in the House of Commons in Westminster and came into force in October when Northern Ireland’s devolved government failed to resume.

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A general election has since been called in the UK and voters will elect a new parliament on December 12.

The DUP is fielding candidates in the UK general election, some of whom have expressed a clear intention to repeal the new abortion law.

Carla Lockhart, who is standing as a candidate for the DUP in the constituency of Upper Bann, published a campaign poster which reads:

I am a pro-life candidate. I along with my DUP colleagues will:

  • Seek to repeal the legislation forced on Northern Ireland by the Westminster Government
  • Improve services for women who face a crisis pregnancies [sic] or have been told their baby has a life-limiting condition
  • Promote a culture that chooses life

She has also called for the abortion laws to be repealed in a video which was posted to the DUP’s official Facebook page. That post with Lockhart's video and the associated comments are still available on Facebook, but the DUP appears to have removed them from its timeline.

In that video she says:

The DUP remains a pro-life party. We want to see the legislation repealed and we also want to see services that help women who find themselves in [a] crisis pregnancy or if they’ve been told that their baby has a life-limiting condition that there are services that support them to choose life...We want a society that values life. We want people to choose life. 

Lockhart is the only DUP representative who appears in the video. LifeSite’s contacts in Northern Ireland have told us that they are not aware of any other candidates with campaign posters promising to seek to repeal the new abortion laws.

In the comments section associated with Lockhart’s video on the DUP’s Facebook page, she received congratulations from pro-life members of the public who also sought clarification on the DUP’s position on the new laws. 

One commenter wrote: “Well said Carla! Let's hope we hear the same from the other DUP candidates!” The commenter received a response from the official DUP Facebook profile which said: “it’s a manifesto position for the party. Carla is speaking on behalf of all our candidates.” 

The original commenter responded: “Repeal isn't mentioned in the manifesto and it also isn't what my wife was told when a local DUP councillor came to our house. Perhaps you could you show me where? Also have a word with your councillor.”

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The DUP’s election manifesto does not promise to seek to repeal the abortion legislation. The word “repeal” is used twice in the manifesto, but in both instances refers to their pledge to seek to repeal the UK’s Fixed Term Parliament Act – an act which sets in legislation a default fixed date for a general election. The word “abortion” does not appear in the manifesto at all. The only reference to unborn children in their manifesto comes in their “12 Point Plan to Get Northern Ireland Moving Again.” Point 6 of that plan makes no reference to repealing the new, but says:

Let’s Protect Mothers & Unborn Life Again

The dangerous vacuum of law and guidance created by the Creasy amendment. This must be matched by promoting a culture of choosing life in Northern Ireland through perinatal services and valuing children through baby boxes and childcare.

Slightly more attention is given to the issue in the DUP’s policy plan document, titled “The Plan.” That document gives just over 200 words (roughly half a page) of detail about how the party intends to protect mothers and “unborn life.” But again, no mention of repealing the new laws is made. With regards to legislation, “The Plan” says:

The ill-thought out, badly drafted and unwisely enacted changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws have created a dangerous precedent and policy vacuum.

The DUP wants:

The Assembly to act to fill the dangerous vacuum of law and guidance that the Creasy legislation creates. Our aim will be to maximise support for mothers and protection of the unborn child.

The document also gives some proposals for financial, emotional, and medical support for pregnant mothers and families.

Pro-lifers in Northern Ireland have pointed out that section 8 of the policy document, “Let’s Protect Our Animals Better,” is arguably significantly more robust than the section dealing with the protection of “Mothers & Unborn Life.”

In the section focused on protecting animals, six separate legislative and policy actions are proposed as well as a public awareness campaign.

Several pro-life organizations in Northern Ireland, including the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Precious Life, and NI Voiceless have all launched campaigns urging politicians in the region to repeal the new abortion laws.

In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Philip Lynn, development officer for SPUC Northern Ireland, described the different approaches emerging in response to the legislation and why SPUC is campaigning to repeal the abortion laws:

The current changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, and the regulations proposed in the consultation, represent perhaps the single greatest test for Northern Ireland’s pro-life movement. Broadly speaking, two different approaches are emerging. We can expect a general realignment within the pro-life movement along this axis: “repeal” or “reform.”

At present, it’s not clear where many individuals or organisations will fall on this axis. However, this will no doubt become increasingly apparent as the consultation period reaches its conclusion.

The emerging “reform” narrative holds that Western Europe’s most radical abortion regime is Northern Ireland’s new reality. This narrative emphasises efforts to “shape” the abortion legislation, to “limit” or “restrict” the number killed, and to “save as many lives as possible.” 

Such efforts are doomed to failure. The 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales is nominally more restrictive than Northern Ireland’s new legislation. Despite this, over 200,000 abortions took place in the UK last year. Efforts to tinker with the legislation will not fundamentally alter the grim reality, but may very well impede efforts to stop the practice of legally-sanctioned abortion entirely.

In contrast, the “repeal” narrative has begun to emerge after a failed effort to enact the Defence of the Unborn Child Bill on October 21. This legislation, had it passed, would have effectively reversed, or repealed, the abortion provisions in Section 9 of the offending legislation. The repeal message argues that the primary objective of the pro-life movement is to secure the full right to life of every man, woman, and child from conception to natural death.

The line taken by the pro-life movement now will be a benchmark for the policies set by Northern Ireland’s political parties in the future. A compromise, or “reformist” stance will merely result in weak policies, and supply the abortion industry with a degree of legitimacy it does not currently have in Northern Ireland. Reformist policies will allow abortion to become Northern Ireland’s “new normal.”

However, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children are unambiguous and clear: we are abortion abolitionists. The killing of any child, for any reason, can never be justified. We will not lend our support to reformist efforts to improve legislation which is specifically designed to enable the killing of children in their mother’s womb.

Speaking specifically with regard to the DUP and their position on the legislation, he said:

The DUP has set the benchmark for the necessary political action in Northern Ireland through their effort to enact the Defence of the Unborn Child bill and to repeal these unjust laws. We hope that they will continue to support efforts to repeal section 9 and to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland.


  abortion, democratic unionist party, northern ireland

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