Last ditch attempt to stop radical new abortion laws coming to Northern Ireland fails

A gardener waters flowers in front of Northern Ireland's parliamentReuters

Members of Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly have failed to stop new abortion laws coming into force in Northern Ireland. 

The law is set to change at midnight tonight, allowing abortion up to the point of viability and removing all legal protections for women as well as the unborn. 

The changes will also legalise abortion on the grounds of disability or gender. 

They were passed by Westminster MPs earlier this year, but the speed with which they are coming into effect means that new regulations governing abortion in the province will not be ready until the end of March 2020. 

Unionist parties opposed to the liberalisation of abortion triggered the recall of the Assembly with a petition in a bid to halt the changes but the sitting ended in less than hour when the nationalist SDLP left the chamber, meaning that a new speaker could not be elected and business could therefore not be conducted. 

Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE (Christian Action Research Education) said it was a "tragic" outcome for Northern Ireland, where there is widespread opposition to the new laws.

"It's tragic because devolution has been ignored and by-passed by MPs and Peers at Westminster and there will be long-term consequences of them doing so," she said. 

"It is doubly tragic because the new laws will endanger women and babies, rather than protecting them.

"This is not progress; it is a retrograde step. Abortion will now be legal in Northern Ireland on the grounds of disability and gender, there will be no effective regulation until at least March 2020 and even that is not guaranteed.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve more than this. We continue to believe that both lives matter and our work to be a voice for the voiceless and to argue for a better way that upholds the dignity of both mothers and babies." 

Pro-life campaign group Both Lives Matter said: "Unless something happens by midnight tonight we face the loss of legal safeguards and protections for women and our unborn children.

"Our healthcare professionals face an unknown and uncertain five months. But today is not over. And the fight for both lives will never be over."