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Alban Maginness

How the new regulations on abortion just introduced devalue the lives of us all

Alban Maginness


Assembly must reconsider the new legislation on terminations when it gets back to normal work after the coronavirus crisis

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New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

There is no doubt that abortion here is a very divisive issue. Very little by way of consensus can ever be achieved. However, the recent tabling, at a time of intense national crisis, of the new abortion regulations at Westminster for parliamentary approval surprised and dismayed many people, given their extreme nature.

Even those who in principle agree with abortion must surely be alarmed by these changes, which go far beyond anything that was imagined by most pro-abortion campaigners here.

The new regulations patently exceed the provisions of the current law contained in the British Abortion Act 1967 and the new abortion law in the Republic.

The regressive nature of these changes is stunning in its disregard for innocent human life

We can now be regarded as having the most extreme and permissive law on abortion in these islands and possibly in western Europe.

The regressive nature of these changes is stunning in its disregard for innocent human life.

Preceding the production of these regulations was a deeply flawed consultation by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

The proposals set out in the consultation went significantly beyond the requirements of the primary legislation, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

The NIO deliberately went beyond those requirements in its final draft regulations.

Despite the fact that the Assembly/Executive has been back in office for three months, it is strange that no meaningful consultation took place with the newly formed Executive, or at least the current Minister of Justice, Naomi Long, on this contentious subject, even though abortion law is now a devolved matter solely for the Assembly to determine.

The consultation and drafting of the new regulations that have the force of law in this jurisdiction were carried out exclusively by Westminster civil servants.

It is the product of their labours that is now being imposed upon us in this devolved region of the United Kingdom.

Such London-centred thinking is quite alien to the thinking of the majority of people in this jurisdiction.

These regulations will allow for abortion for any reason at all up to 12 weeks, and up to 24 weeks for undefined mental and physical reasons.

The unconditionality of up to 12 weeks is a blank cheque for abortion on the grounds of sex, disability, or any other arbitrary reason.

Nor is there a requirement that a doctor be involved in the actual abortion procedure.

Nurses or midwives can carry out such a procedure.

Abortions up to birth are also permitted after the diagnosis of any serious disability, not just for a life limiting disability.

The word 'serious' is not defined, but experience in Britain suggests that the widest definition will be utilised.

One striking lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is just how precious and fragile life really is for all of us, young and old, sick and able

The debate in Northern Ireland started with a concern about fatal foetal abnormality. Those who raised concerns that the use of that hardest of hard cases masked an ambition to completely alter the entire protection for the unborn were ignored. The full cost of the absence of the Assembly for three years is now being felt by the most vulnerable, our unborn. It is a very bitter legacy.

It is no wonder that leading pro-life campaigner Dawn McAvoy, of Both Lives Matter, said in response that the pro-life organisation was "heartbroken" by these regulations.

She added: "It is more important than ever before that those of us who recognise and value both lives in every pregnancy offer better than abortion."

The Northern Catholic Bishops stated in trenchant terms: "The imposition of such draconian and unjust legislation ensures that the issue will never cease to be contentious."

Is modern Northern Ireland in a better place now than it was at the height of the Troubles, when human life was so wantonly devalued by political violence in our streets?

And contentious it will continue to be, even after the end of this pandemic, when at last the Assembly will have a proper opportunity to reconsider the law in this devolved area and hopefully replace this inhuman legislation on the basis of the fundamental human right to life.

One striking lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is just how precious and fragile life really is for all of us, young and old, sick and able.

We have seen how much valiant effort has been put into saving all human life by our much appreciated National Health Service.

That being so, why do some demand - as the law now permits - that human life in the form of unborn babies be ended through the violence of legal abortion?

Are these abortion regulations really the hallmark of a progressive society?

Is modern Northern Ireland in a better place now than it was at the height of the Troubles, when human life was so wantonly devalued by political violence in our streets?

Surely, when the human life of the unborn becomes legally devalued through lawful destruction, do we not also devalue the life of all of us who are lucky enough to have been born already?

Belfast Telegraph