London, U.K., November 23, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – British Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted she does not support a private members bill currently making its way through the Westminster Parliament that would decriminalise abortion in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
The British 1967 Abortion Act legalized abortion only within certain narrowly defined circumstances, and abortion outside these limits remains a criminal act. The 1967 Abortion Act permitting abortion in certain circumstances was never extended to Northern Ireland. This latest legislative move aims to decriminalize abortion across the UK.
In a letter to one of her parliamentary constituents, made public by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the UK’s Prime Minister said she did not support the repeal of the relevant sections of the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861 because it “does not solve the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland, as without any new provision it offers no safeguards for women, and would impact on England and Wales, as well as Northern Ireland”.
May went on to add that if the 1861 act was repealed there would be no upper time limit on how far into pregnancy a woman could have an abortion. She repeated the current government position by saying that it is up to Ulster’s politicians to deal locally with the issue of abortion provision in Northern Ireland given that it is a devolved matter.
The private members' bill has been brought forward by Labour Member of Parliament Diana Johnson, and has the backing of Amnesty International. The Bill will receive its second reading in the United Kingdom Parliament this week. The Bill aims to repeal Ss.58 and 59 of the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861 under which abortion remains a criminal offence.
In regard to Johnson’s Bill, it is felt by many commentators that it has little chance of proceeding into law. This is because the government has made it clear that any change in the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter for the local assembly. That assembly is currently not sitting due to ongoing disagreements between its two main political parties, namely, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein.
The Prime Minister’s intervention comes just days after more than sixty female celebrities, including actors Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale and Claire Foy, wrote to May asking her to back the Johnson Bill. This is part of a strategy involving high-profile figures from beyond the world of politics and outside Northern Ireland all urging a change in the law there in regard to abortion. Similar tactics were employed by the “Yes” campaign during the Republic’s referendum.
Prime Minister May latest comments have little to do with her views on abortion. She has always stressed her support for abortion provision. After the landslide result in favor of legalizing abortion in the Irish Republic, she tweeted: “The Irish referendum was an impressive show of democracy which delivered a clear and unambiguous result. I congratulate the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign.”
Instead, her comments on the Johnson Bill are dictated by the fact that after the 2017 British General Election, May’s Conservative Government has no overall majority in the House of Commons. She needs the support of the ten DUP MPs to ensure that her administration in London does not collapse. The DUP is pro-life and does not want Northern Ireland’s current laws on abortion changed. Given her continued Brexit woes, May cannot afford to alienate the DUP further thus her public distancing from the Johnson Bill and all it would mean for Northern Ireland.
Nevertheless, and for some time now, Ulster’s abortion laws remain under attack from pro-abortionist groups in Britain. The pressure to scrap existing laws has intensified since the Irish Republic’s referendum on abortion in May. At their celebrations following the vote to allow abortion, Sinn Fein, one of the main proponents of liberal abortion in the Irish Republic, held aloft banners stating: “The North is next”. Sinn Fein has made abortion reform a central tenet of their policy agenda in Northern Ireland where they are the second biggest party in terms of electoral support.
In addition, outside Northern Ireland, British pro-abortion groups and their parliamentary allies continue to agitate to change the laws that govern abortion in Northern Ireland. Central to their campaign to achieve this is the removal of the criminal law that underpins current British abortion legislation—Ss.58 and 59 of the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861 – via the Johnson Bill. By removing these sections, abortion would be decriminalized not just in Northern Ireland but also throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.