Calls to NI politicians to quit devolved government over Westminster's abortion plans

(Photo: Unsplash/BadyQB)

Pro-life groups have responded with anger over planned new powers for Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that will enable him to force Stormont to expand abortion access across the province. 

Regulations have been introduced to Parliament by the Conservative Government in Westminster to give Lewis power to direct the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and local health agencies on abortion services, effectively overriding Northern Ireland's devolved institutions. 

The new powers come into effect from March 31, but they will need to be debated in both houses of Parliament to remain in force.

Philip Lynn, SPUC's Northern Ireland Development Officer said the regulations would give Lewis the power to compel the First and Deputy First Ministers, and local departments to take any action he deems necessary to comply with "radical" UN recommendations on abortion access.

"This includes the promotion of abortion in schools and the provision of abortion to underage children without the knowledge of their parents," he said. 

He warned that the development not only threatens the lives of unborn children in Northern Ireland but "could spell the end to local democratic government."

"By seizing the power to force through the UN recommendations unilaterally, London is fatally undermining devolution; stripping locally elected Ministers of power and denying the people of Northern Ireland accountable government with a democratic mandate.

"The only option remaining for pro-life politicians, democrats, and anyone who supports devolution is to bring down the Stormont Executive immediately and open negotiations to restore power to a locally elected and accountable government."

There has been broad political opposition to the announcement, with the DUP leader in Westminster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, telling BBC Radio Ulster that it will set a "dangerous precedent" and represent a "dangerous breach of the devolution settlement."

Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deidre Hargey MLA has called the intervention "unfortunate and unnecessary", while TUV leader Jim Allister said it was a "highly retrograde step" that raises "searching questions" about Northern Ireland's devolution. 

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said NI parties were right to be concerned.

"The Conservative Government, which claims to take a neutral stance on abortion, has today given the Northern Ireland Secretary the power to directly undermine devolution to force more abortion on Northern Ireland," she said. 

"This is while there is a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been elected by the people of Northern Ireland, to make decisions on devolved matters including abortion. If he goes ahead and exercises these powers, this extraordinary move is essentially direct rule from Westminster".

"It appears that abortion advocates in the Northern Ireland Office are more than willing to ignore precedent and established relations between Stormont and Westminster in their pursuit of abortion expansion, no matter what the cost."