Alban Maginness: Government's imposition of new abortion legislation can be halted by people power
Northern Ireland will move from being safest place in Europe for the unborn child to the least safe if laws come into force, says Alban Maginness
Last Friday's silent March for the Voiceless saw 20,000 pro-life people walking up the hill to the steps of our moribund Assembly at Stormont. It was immensely impressive. This silent, dignified demonstration against the undemocratic imposition of unrestricted abortion in the absence of a sitting Assembly concluded with an extraordinary display of torches that spectacularly illuminated the twilight. It was a moving sight and demonstrated the solidarity of ordinary citizens, both young and old, in opposing the threat to the life of the unborn.
They demonstrated their opposition to this unconstitutional move by a dysfunctional, Brexit-demented Westminster. This move is unconstitutional because it blatantly breaches the devolution settlement under the Good Friday Agreement and is contrary to the discretion granted to the Assembly on abortion matters through the jurisprudence of European Court of Human Rights.
The NI Executive Formation Act 2019 was hijacked in July by a group of militant pro-abortion MPs anxious to decriminalise abortion throughout the UK. They seized the opportunity of advancing their cause by inserting a section on abortion into this technical piece of legislation, tabled by the Government in order to facilitate the return of the Assembly. Having successfully done this, they will without doubt attempt to extend this measure to the whole of the UK.
The intention of this Act was to facilitate the return of the Assembly, but ironically it will impede its return and guarantee a further delay in the Assembly's return before October 21 because it allows Sinn Fein, and indeed others, an opportunity to see abortion successfully introduced through the back door.
Having colluded in allowing the British Parliament to do their dirty work for them, Sinn Fein can rightly claim that abortion was introduced to here by the British Parliament, not by the Assembly.
It was indeed an exhausted government, patently on its last legs, that rolled over and permitted the inclusion of this substantive piece of legislation without any consultation whatsoever with the local electorate.
There are of course people here that supported the introduction of abortion, but the majority of them argued (and did so sincerely), for abortion in the very rare, limited and difficult cases of rape and incest, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
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However, the legislation goes well beyond those rare cases and is a charter for unrestricted abortion up to seven months. This is to comply with the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945, which estimated the stage of viability of a baby in the womb at 28 weeks. Contemporary medical science would argue viability is at 21 weeks, but the 1945 Act overrules that argument. In most parts of Europe, abortion is restricted to 12 weeks.
This Act is even more permissive than the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain. When examined, the 2019 Act can be seen to completely remove the legal protection for the unborn baby. After its coming into force on October 21, Northern Ireland will move from being the safest place in Europe for the unborn baby to being the least safe place. This is a truly shocking and terrifying thought.
The impact of this on our medical practitioners will be profoundly negative and will in due course change the basic caring culture of our health service.
For the five months following October 21 there will be absolutely no protection for the unborn. During this five-month period, according to the Government, no criminal act can, nor will be investigated. For example, even if a pregnant woman is forced by her partner or other person to take an abortion pill, that leads to injury or death, no criminal act will have taken place as all the protection of the law will be gone.
Thereafter, the Government intends to introduce abortion regulations. These regulations cannot be in any way amended by Parliament because regulations are voted upon as a whole and are not subject to amendment. So people will simply have to accept whatever the Government comes up with.
This is a serious blow to local democracy, but our politicians, with a few honourable exceptions, such as Baroness Nuala O'Loan, are running away from addressing this serious issue. Why? This is difficult to understand because this is a human rights issue of extreme importance.
One thing is certain: popular opinion has been ignited and ordinary people care deeply, as evidenced not just by the large Stormont march, but also by the March for their Lives demonstration on Saturday. It was so big that it brought Belfast city centre to a standstill.
If people power in Hong Kong can stop the imposition of repressive legislation by a totalitarian government in Beijing, then people power here can stop the imposition of regressive abortion legislation here by an irresponsible and reckless Westminster parliament.