Evangelicals challenge Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission over abortion stance

(Photo: Unsplash/Aditya Romansa)

Evangelicals in Northern Ireland have criticised the Human Rights Commission for failing to stop radical new abortion laws coming into effect next month.

Public Policy Lead at the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, David Smyth, called upon the commission to intervene to protect the unborn ahead of changes coming in that will make it possible for women to have an abortion up to 28 weeks in the province. 

The commission said this week that the change reflected a UK Supreme Court ruling declaring NI abortion law to be contrary to a woman's right to personal and bodily autonomy.

New laws removing many existing protections for the unborn in Northern Ireland were controversially passed by Westminster MPs earlier this year and will come into force on October 22 unless Stormont is reconvened before then. 

Under the current laws, Northern Ireland only permits abortion in very limited circumstances, when there is serious risk to the mother's mental or physical health.  It does not allow abortion in cases of rape or incest. 

Mr Smyth criticised the NI Human Rights Commission earlier this week for failing to raise any objections to the new laws.

"In fact, in the name of human rights, the commission is advocating for this legislation – which will remove vital protections from unborn human babies to allow their destruction with no legal consequence," he told the Belfast Newsletter. 

"This is because the commission does not believe that the unborn child is entitled to any protection before birth under human rights law. It is important that the public know this and that it does not have to be this way. There is no explicit human right to an abortion because a child is unwanted."

In response to the criticism, Lee Allamby, chief commissioner of the NI Human Rights Commission, told the newspaper that the only change to the province's abortion laws was to make it "no longer possible to take criminal prosecutions against, for example, women and clinicians". 

Reiterating the UK Supreme Court ruling, he said that "the foetus or unborn child, while having some statutory protection, has no free-standing human right, rather such rights are inextricably linked to the rights of the woman".

The change to Northern Ireland's abortion laws has been strongly criticised by Christians and pro-lifers, but midwives have also expressed fears about freedom of conscience. 

Debbie Duncan, a former midwife of 30 years and now lecturer in midwifery at Queen's University Belfast, said that "too much change with no regulation" may give health staff "no choice" but to assist in an abortion. 

"I think healthcare workers here could end up having to care for someone when they don't feel happy about it. I don't think there will be time to get the regulations drawn up and put in place by October, even though I'm sure there are conversations taking place," she told the Belfast Telegraph. 

"If the law does come in here, it needs to be done properly. It doesn't matter what your ethics or your faith is, we still need to look at this."