Wednesday February 10, 2010

U.K. “Deceitful” for Re-Issuing Court-Rejected Abortion Guidelines for N. Ireland

By Hilary White

BELFAST, February 10, 2010 ( – Pro-life advocates in Northern Ireland may have cheered too soon when in November of last year a court ordered the recall of health guidelines that threatened the province’s pro-life laws. The U.K. government now is being called “deceitful” for re-issuing the same guidelines that were rejected last year.

Bernadette Smyth, the director of Northern Ireland’s leading pro-life group Precious Life, called the re-issuing of the same guidelines, for the third time, “arrogant and deceitful.” In a press statement the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) said they have withdrawn their guidelines, but Precious Life called this “a blatant lie.”

“They have not withdrawn the guidelines; they have reissued the same guidelines with two sections ‘temporarily removed’,” Smyth said.

After the initial court decision, the DHSSPS argued in court that only the two sections singled out by the court as problematic should be withdrawn. But Lord Justice Girvan refused to alter his ruling requiring the guidelines to be withdrawn completely, saying that the errors in the two sections made the guidelines as a whole misleading.

Abortion is a crime in Northern Ireland, but attempts to legalize it by abortion activists and Westminster MPs are ongoing, despite polls that consistently show public support for the law as it is. But in the U.K.’s system of government-operated health care, “guidelines” can be issued to tell health care workers how the law should be applied in practice. Pro-life leaders had denounced the most recent guidelines as an effort to skirt the law and bring legal abortion into Northern Ireland “through the back door,” and they took the government to court over it.

The government appears determined to force the guidelines back into Northern Ireland, however. The guidelines that were rejected by the court in November and December had, in March 2008, been issued essentially unchanged from a previous document, that had been accepted only provisionally by Northern Ireland’s Assembly.

In November, while the guidelines were being examined by the court, Liam Gibson of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), told (LSN) that the guidelines “misrepresent” the law and “minimize the illegality of abortion in Northern Ireland.”

“Abortion is a criminal offence, not medical treatment,” he said. “And the guidelines as they are now, give the impression that abortion is fundamentally lawful except in a few circumstances when really it’s the other way around. In fact, it is unlawful except in a few circumstances.”