On July 18 2019, the House of Commons passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill by 328 votes to 65. Intended to extend the deadline for the restoration of the Stormont Assembly, the passage of this Bill will be remembered as one of the most shocking abuses of the Parliamentary process in modern times.
Abortion law is a devolved issue so Parliament has effectively trampled on the devolution settlement at the heart of the Belfast Agreement. It has also set a dangerous precedent that could have lasting consequences for the rule of law. Imposing the decriminalisation of abortion on Northern Ireland will cost the lives of tens of thousands more unborn children by ushering in one of the most extreme abortion regimes in Europe.
Theresa May's government not only allowed this Bill to be hijacked, Ministers consulted the abortion lobby on the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This law has saved more than 100,000 babies in Northern Ireland in the past 50 years.
Despite having been warned by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords that the lack of proper scrutiny in the fast-track procedure meant that it was unacceptable for Northern Ireland Bills, the Government pushed it through in a matter of days and in the face of the unanimous opposition of the MPs from the Province who take their seats.
When the Leader of the Commons virtually invited amendments on abortion and same-sex marriage, it gave the Speaker the green-light to ignore constitutional convention and select them for debate. Although such issues had no relevance to the scope of the original Bill, and despite admitting that these amendments were so poorly drafted that they could not function legally, the Government took on the responsibility for them and even consulted pro-abortion Labour MPs on how they could be implemented.
The Bill requires the Northern Ireland Secretary to put secondary legislation to Parliament which will strike down the current law, decriminalise abortion and call an immediate moratorium on the investigation and prosecution of criminal abortions. All this will happen before 22 October.
New regulations are supposed to follow some months later but until then, in the words of one prominent QC, a state of "legal chaos" will exist. However, current political instability, in both Belfast and Westminster, means that there is a risk that this chaos could last longer than expected.
All this has been done in the name of human rights. But abortion is not a human right. It is an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child and is never justified. No UN convention has ever recognised access to abortion as a human right. Nor does any UN committee have the authority to compel a State to change its abortion laws.
Once constitutional safeguards are swept aside, the legislative process becomes little more than the arbitrary exercise of raw political power. When this happens the rule of law is abandoned. The passage of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill has shown that whatever a majority of politicians are prepared to force through Parliament will become the law even if it is unconstitutional. This has grave implications for all aspects of Christian life.
The current law in Britain will soon be more restrictive than the new regime in Northern Ireland so decriminalisation will soon be implemented across the whole of the UK. If this unconstitutional law is allowed to stand then freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and the right to educate children in Christian moral values will quickly come under threat in a society where might makes right.
Liam Gibson is SPUC Pro-life's Northern Ireland Political Officer