Belfast Telegraph

Dr Martin Luther King's niece is right - greatest human rights struggle today is battle for unborn

Grubby Westminster deal on abortion undermines devolution in spirit if not in law

By Alban Maginness

On the day that there was undisguised media jubilation that women from Northern Ireland would be able to obtain abortions free of charge on the English NHS, baby Charlie Gard was to be taken off life support to die.

The media sympathised with the distraught parents, who had steadfastly fought in the British and European courts to keep their severely disabled baby on life support, at least until he could get potentially more effective medical treatment in the United States. The media was largely critical of the courts' refusal to permit this alternative medical route.

Here was a confused and confusing response. If Charlie had been a baby in the womb, the same media outlets would not have given him a second's thought if he had been aborted under Britain's permissive abortion regime established by the 1967 Abortion Act, that has resulted in the terminations of eight million babies since its enactment.

Britain is in a state of moral confusion. It is this same moral confusion that ridicules the pro-life movement as being anti-progressive because of its principled commitment to the protection of the life of the unborn.

At the same time, the previous week's decision by the Supreme Court not to permit the granting of NHS - free of charge - abortions for Northern Ireland women was largely ignored.

This significant Supreme Court decision was effectively overturned by a grubby little deal between the Tory Prime Minister and her own backbenchers and an assortment of Labour Party pro-abortion MPs.

The only purpose of this deal was to save Theresa May's bacon, as any defeat on a Queen's Speech amendment could have brought down her Government.

May has been rightly criticised for her previous grubby deal with Arlene Foster's DUP on the basis that it compromised the neutrality of the Government in relation to the present negotiations for a new Executive.

Interestingly, criticism of the DUP also led to outrageous anti-DUP caricatures, which were thinly veiled anti-Irish lampoons. Some on this side of the Irish Sea foolishly enjoyed and encouraged such quasi-racist ridicule.

But, strangely, there was little criticism of this second grubby deal, which, if considered in the round, is much more serious as it will sadly encourage more women from Northern Ireland to seek abortions in England.

Remember that this change applies to all abortions, not just the limited category of anencephaly, as in the Sarah Ewart case.

It therefore threatens the lives of many more of our unborn future citizens and, furthermore, it undermines the devolution settlement in spirit, if not in law.

If devolution is to be meaningful, it is our own collective right to make political decisions on difficult social matters.

The indirect imposition of decisions reflective of contemporary British social norms is in contempt of devolution.

It also highlights the fragility of the current Government with its doubtful mandate. This deal, in particular, exposes this Government to future political blackmail.

But in a landmark judgment, which curiously received comparatively little attention from the media locally or nationally, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, in a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to test the compatibility of abortion law in Northern Ireland with the European Convention on Human Rights, decided that our current law was not incompatible with the convention.

The Appeal Court unanimously overturned the decision of the lower court that heard the case in 2015. The court restated the law as determined by the European Court, that under the convention each jurisdiction has a margin of appreciation - in layman's terms, a wide margin of judgment - in dealing with abortion.

The court also definitively stated that there was not a human right to abortion under the convention, nor any other international human rights law.

It has often been erroneously put out by pro-abortion campaigners, such as Amnesty International, that there is a human right to abortion.

The court clearly ruled that abortion law was a matter for the Assembly to determine. Crucially, the court also noted that the Assembly had already considered the matter in 2015 and had voted against the attempt by David Ford of the Alliance Party to change the law to permit abortion on a basis of so-called fatal foetal abnormality.

So, it will be up to the Assembly to determine the law on abortion. It is not an easy task, but our lawmakers should be mindful that human life is precious at whatever stage of its pre-natal development and deserves continued lawful protection.

Dr Alveda King, niece of Dr Martin Luther King, has rightly declared: "In our age, the greatest human rights struggle, following in the footsteps of Wilberforce and my uncle's civil rights movement, is the battle today for the unborn."

Too true.

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