Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops have accused the British government of showing a “reckless disregard” for the region’s cross-community power-sharing government with their plans to impose abortion legislation.
The UK government has announced it will give the British minister who oversees the region new powers to compel the locally elected parliament to implement abortion laws.
In March 2020, when the Northern Ireland Assembly was not meeting due to tensions in the five-party coalition, Westminster acted to legalise abortion in the region.
However, when a fresh agreement was reached and local devolution restored, abortion services were stalled, with Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann unwilling to act, insisting it was undemocratic and against the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.
In a statement, the Catholic bishops described the most recent British move as “the latest in a line of unilateral interventions by the current Westminster government to portray a reckless disregard for the fragile checks and balances of the international peace settlement between these islands.”
“Such a development should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who upholds the principle of devolution at the heart of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement,” the bishops said.
The 1998 peace agreement they refer to brought an end to 30 years of sectarian killing that left more than 3,000 people dead. As part of the settlement, those who want unity with the rest of Ireland and those who want to remain part of Britain agreed to govern the region as part of a cross-community mandatory coalition.
The bishops said they were “deeply concerned” that the British government now “intends to bypass the NI Assembly to force the minister for health here to commission some of the most extreme and liberal abortion services on these islands.”
“What Westminster seeks to impose, against the clear will of a majority of people here, is a law which blatantly undermines the right to life of unborn children and promotes an abhorrent and indefensible prejudice against persons with disabilities, even before they are born,” the bishops said.
They called upon locally elected politicians to “speak out against the extreme and profoundly discriminatory nature of these abortion regulations, which the secretary of state seeks to impose over their heads.”
“We ask you, as our locally elected representatives, not to meekly acquiesce in this effort to bypass internationally agreed devolved structures. We appeal to you to publicly defend the rights of all children in the womb to be treated equally and to have their right and that of their mothers to love, care and protection by our society respected and upheld,” the statement added.
Picture: Bernadette Smyth, director of the Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life, protests outside Parliament in Belfast, Northern Ireland, over moves by the British government to legalise abortion in the region. (CNS photo/courtesy Precious Life).