Pro-life groups lament 'extremely sad' abortion regulations in Northern Ireland

(Photo: Unsplash/Ryan Stone)

Pro-life groups have condemned the new legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland. 

If the regulations announced by the Conservative Government on Wednesday are passed, abortion will be legal up to 12 weeks for any reason and up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to mental or physical health. 

However, abortion will be permitted up to birth in cases where "if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled".

The framework has given rise to concerns over sex-selective abortions and abortions for Down's syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. 

According to Christian Action Research Education (CARE), there is strong opposition to such sweeping changes, with 79 per cent of respondents to the public consultation expressing opposition to abortion provision in Northern Ireland going beyond what was permitted prior to the law changing last October. 

Up to this point, Northern Ireland had one of the strictest abortion frameworks in Europe, permitting the termination of pregnancies only if a woman's life was deemed to be at risk or where there was a danger of permanent and serious damage to her physical or mental health.

CARE NI Chief Executive, Nola Leach, said the new framework was "deeply sad".  She said that the issue should be considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly as she called for more investment in crisis pregnancy centres to support new mums facing crisis pregnancies.

"The fact the Northern Ireland Office is proposing a more liberalised law on abortion than the one currently in place in Great Britain adds insult to injury," she said. 

"The reality is that Westminster should never have acted to override the devolved Assembly on this issue. Elected representatives from NI have been ignored and the voices of thousands of individuals have simply been set aside.

"The NIO has also clearly ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who responded to the public consultation on the new framework were completely opposed.

"Consequently, we call on both Houses of Parliament to reject the regulations when both House's get the chance to debate the regulations." 

She added: "At CARE NI, we believe both lives matter and that ultimately, the new abortion services being proposed will harm – not help – women and babies."

A spokesperson for the Right to Life UK campaign group responded to the announcement by calling on Stormont to repeal the changes.

"Introducing abortion on demand to Northern Ireland would cost over £5m a year, putting more pressure on an already stretched health service," the spokesperson said.

"Rolling out the service is likely to cost much more in terms of start-up costs and will take vital health service time and resources from fighting the Coronavirus.

"We are calling on MLAs to urgently confirm the Department of Health will prioritise dealing with the Coronavirus crisis and not divert any time and resources, which are critical to saving lives during this crisis, to instead introducing this extreme abortion regime across Northern Ireland.

"We are also calling on MLAs to bring forward legislation as soon as possible to Stormont to repeal this extreme change to the law"