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July 17, 2019 (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) — In the face of numerous attacks in the last few years, the Government has consistently said that abortion is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and it is for the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to decide on the matter. Now, after pro-abortion MPs hijacked the unrelated Northern Ireland Executive Bill, the Government is not only accepting the amendments, but is actively working with the MPs who introduced them to bring them into effect.

Lord Duncan of Springbank, the Government minister, revealed last week that just before the second reading debate, he had met with Stella Creasy (who tabled the abortion amendment) and Conor McGinn (who tabled a same-sex marriage amendment), along with representatives of the Labour party, to discuss how to implement the changes.

What Happened?

Monday night saw the Committee stage in the House of Lords. Lord Springbank insisted that the amendments made in the Commons were “procedurally correct” (despite it being pointed out that Clerks had ruled they were out of scope) and clarified that the Government was indeed making a u-turn and collaborating with Labour MPs to make them workable. He said:

As I made clear at Second Reading, there are technical problems with the drafting of this clause which need to be resolved. On an issue as important as abortion, which relates to the health and safety of women in Northern Ireland, it is not enough to express the desire for change. The Government must ensure that the drafting of the Bill is effective and can, in practical terms, deliver the change that the Members in the other place want to see. Discussion is ongoing, with the support of the Government, to try to deliver a clause that works. Discussions have taken place with the two Members of Parliament who moved the amendments. I hope that, when we come back to consider these on Report, we will have amendments which are fit for purpose.

Several peers, including Baroness O'Loan, Lord Cormack and Lord Trimble, tabled amendments aimed at changing the date of the bill, making space for consultation with the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, or removing the abortion clause altogether. As it is parliamentary convention not to vote on amendments at Committee stage, they all withdrew their amendments when they were not accepted by the Government.

What Is Going to Happen?

In one of her speeches, Baroness O'Loan said that the Government had many questions to answer on just what it was proposing.

“The clause as drafted is, of course, unworkable. The Secretary of State has no power in the Northern Ireland Act to make the regulations requested by the amendment. Moreover, the law must be capable of being understood, yet what is proposed here is not clear. The Northern Ireland Attorney-General has spoken publicly about the difficulties generated by this clause, which is vague and goes beyond the Abortion Act 1967. Neither the Northern Ireland Assembly nor any Minister has the power to repeal the Offences against the Person Act by regulation; it is just nonsense. Also, based on this Bill, it is not clear what legislation or directions would say. We do not usually legislate for what we do not know.

“The Government have said that they will make it work,” she went on. “Are they going to amend the Northern Ireland Act? What is going to happen? Parliamentary rules cannot be set aside without risking damage to our constitutional arrangements. To make matters worse, these amendments were accepted in relation to a Bill that is subject to a fast-tracking procedure that, even without these far-reaching and completely out-of-scope provisions, but simply on the basis of the Bill's original purpose as introduced, must attract the attention — perhaps the censure — of the Constitution Committee, which last week reported that Northern Ireland Bills should not be fast-tracked unless they are really urgent. There is time to get this Bill right, and to get our talks back in action.”

“They'll Just Have to Accept It”

Pro-abortion peers insisted that abortion is a “human right” and they were thus justified in overturning the principles of devolution. Baroness Tonge even insisted that abortion should be imposed on Northern Ireland even if it is against the will of the people.

“If people in Northern Ireland want still to belong to the United Kingdom, they have to accept that there are some things that the United Kingdom is committed to, and this is one of them. Women have the right to have an abortion. Not to allow them to have an abortion is a form of extreme violence to some women,” she said.

Abortion Kills Real Babies

In the face of this kind of pro-abortion rhetoric, Baroness O'Loan spoke up strongly for the unborn and for the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland, stating, “One thing I noticed this afternoon was that the unborn child was largely absent from the debate. When mentioned, there was in some quarters a rolling of eyes and expressions of contempt. Yet it has to be said that abortion is about killing babies — real babies. Without Amendment 23, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill will go down in British constitutional history as one of its blackest moments of all times, when constitutional due process was completely swept aside because of the conviction of parliamentarians, none of whom represents Northern Ireland, that the end justifies the means. That is never a good place to be. We have heard it said that it does not really matter at all if Northern Ireland's MPs voted against this, because it is a matter of human rights and if you want to be in the UK you have to accept abortion as a ​human right. There is no human right to abortion.”

Published with permission from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.