Belfast Telegraph

Abortion: In week when we're asked to cast our vote, it's not right voice of public has been ignored

By Peter Lynas

It was one of the largest consultations in Northern Ireland on a highly emotive issue - changing the law relating to abortion.

Abortion touches upon sensitive issues of dignity, identity and relationships. The Justice Minister said "on the weight of evidence" he would seek a change in the law. The press release following the consultation added "there is a substantial body of support to make limited changes to the law on abortion".

Here's the problem. There were more than 25,000 responses to the consultation and more than 99% were against any change - 3,425 people signed a petition opposing change. A further 20,197 filled out a postcard opposing change. These 23,622 ordinary people seem to have been ignored in concluding there was a substantial body of support for change.

More than 900 letters were sent to the department that "may" have been organised by churches or faith groups. These all opposed change and again seem to have been ignored.

That leaves 777 responses. Surely here, having excluded petitions, letters and postcards, we would find the substantial body of support? Well, 77% of these responses were opposed to change.

The minister seems to be suggesting that only the Royal Colleges and others with medical expertise should have a say. It is not for the average person on the street, or counsellors, or lawyers, or those who have been through abortions, to be part of the "weight of evidence".

But even the experts don't all agree. The Royal College of Midwives believes the changes do not go far enough and says abortion should be allowed when there is "something seriously wrong" with the unborn baby.

The Royal College of Nursing prefers option three of those set out by the department, while the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists prefers option four. And, of course, there are many GPs, nurses and midwives who don't think the law should change.

The abortion law in Northern Ireland strikes a difficult and delicate balance between the life and wellbeing of the woman and the unborn child, reflecting the biological evidence that both lives are intimately linked.

The key question is whether the pre-born is a human being. If the answer is yes, human dignity and rights follow, and that life cannot be terminated by anyone else, even the mother. If not, then no justification is needed for terminating the life in any circumstances.

It is time to change the conversation from abortion to better care for the woman and the unborn child. While abortion is a criminal issue, we need to focus on this area.

The Evangelical Alliance has long called for clearer guidelines and believes this is the best way forward. We need better counselling, perinatal hospice care and tailored pathways for families - that is the compassionate response.

It seems strange to under-value the petitions and postcards of ordinary people in the week in which everyone gets to put a simple cross on the ballot paper to decide the future of the country.

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance

Belfast Telegraph


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