A Christian advocacy group has urged MPs to reject the UK Government’s new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland, which they are set to vote on later today.
Nola Leach, chief executive of Christian Action Research & Education (CARE), has urged MPs to “carefully recognise the strength of feeling in Northern Ireland”.
“Both lives matter in every pregnancy. MPs need to consider that, by voting for these regulations, the message they are sending to the people of Northern Ireland is that unborn babies have no value, particularly unborn babies who have disabilities,” she said.
Earlier this week, CARE accused Peers at Westminster of discriminating against people with disabilities and voting against devolution after they overwhelmingly backed the UK Government’s abortion regulations for Northern Ireland, despite opposition by the Stormont Assembly.
The House of Lords supported the provisions on Monday evening by 355 votes to 77, with a majority of 278.
An earlier bid led by independent crossbencher Baroness O’Loan for the regulations to be rejected was heavily defeated by 388 votes to 112, with a majority of 276.
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which acknowledged the right to life of the unborn, were changed by MPs last year at a time when Stormont was collapsed.
However, earlier this month the now-sitting Assembly registered its opposition to the “imposition” of regulations by Westminster, which permit abortions up to birth in cases of severe non-fatal disability.
CARE denounced the vote, accusing Peers of voting against devolution and for the discrimination of people with disabilities.
“Members of the House of Lords have tonight voted for regulations that directly discriminate against people with disabilities,” Ms Leach told The Catholic Universe.
“Not only that, but Peers have also voted for regulations that were rejected by a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly only a few weeks ago.”
Citing recent polling, Ms Leach insisted that the people of Northern Ireland do not want the regulations.
“We have consistently argued that with the Northern Ireland Assembly now restored, the matter of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be handed back to the Assembly,” she said, adding: “Peers have voted against devolution tonight”.
The vote came after a recent poll found that the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not support abortion to birth for cleft lip, cleft palate or Down Syndrome.
Belfast-based pollster Lucid Talk conducted the poll of people living in Northern Ireland between 3rd and 5th June on behalf of CARE NI. There were 1,878 respondents.
In total, more than two thirds of respondents (72 per cent) said they were against abortion to birth for otherwise healthy babies with a cleft lip or palate.
Nearly half (49 per cent) were strongly opposed, with 23 per cent opposed and only 15 per cent either supportive or strongly supportive of the new abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, just over two thirds (67 per cent) of respondents were either strongly opposed (42 per cent) or opposed (25 per cent) to abortion for Down Syndrome between 24 weeks gestation up to birth.
Under the UK Government’s new abortion laws for Northern Ireland, abortion will be legal up to birth in cases of ‘serious disability’ which in Great Britain has included Down Syndrome, cleft lip and cleft palate.
The polling came after the Northern Ireland Assembly recently passed a motion by 46-40 rejecting the imposition of abortion legislation, including abortion to birth for all non-fatal disabilities.
In the two votes held, 75 MLAs voted to make it clear they rejected the provisions in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities.
Lord Shinkwin, who was born with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare genetic brittle bone disease, said the polling demonstrates “how out of touch the Government is with public opinion in driving these outdated and discriminatory regulations through Parliament”.
“Although technically the regulations only relate to Northern Ireland, the whole UK Parliament is being invited to endorse them and to thereby legitimise disability discrimination,” he said.
“Only last week the Prime Minister said that we should all ‘defeat…discrimination wherever we find it’. So why is the Government doing the opposite and actually entrenching discrimination wherever it can?
“The last thing we should be doing is imposing a policy of blatant disability discrimination against the express will of the reconstituted Northern Ireland Assembly,” added Lord Shinkwin.
Down Syndrome campaigner Heidi Crowter said the idea of abortion up to birth for Down Syndrome being imposed on Northern Ireland is “deeply offensive to me”.
“It makes me feel like I should not have been born,” she said, while urging politicians to “respect my right to life, and the right to life of other people with Downs, and other non-fatal disabilities”.
Carla Lockhart, a Northern Ireland MP, also criticised the UK Government for its “monstrous” attempts to impose the extreme regulations on Northern Ireland.
“In crafting regulations that say it is okay to terminate viable unborn babies between 24 gestation and full term because they have a non-fatal disability, while saying that viable babies of exactly the same age should be protected from this because they don’t have a disability, the law says loud and clear that the lives of people with non-fatal disabilities are less valuable than those with fatal disabilities, with fatal consequences,” she said.
Picture: File photo dated 17/5/2009 of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, central London. (Tim Ireland/PA).