Abortion issue forges unlikely alliance
Ian Paisley jnr, MLA, speaking during a meeting of the All Values Group at Stormont yesterday. The group, containing representation from the House of Lords, Westminster and the European Parliament including Kathy Sinnott, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Senator Jim Walsh, met to announce their views on the provision of private abortion services. photograph: stephen davison
An unlikely alliance of politicians and campaigners gathered in Belfast yesterday to give last-minute support to an amendment to stop the Marie Stopes clinic from providing abortions.
Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh, pro-life campaigner Dana Rosemary Scallon and her fellow former MEP Kathy Sinnott joined a rainbow of politicians and anti-abortion campaigners from the North for a press conference at Stormont.
The diverse grouping, which included representatives of the DUP, the SDLP and the UUP, urged a vote in favour of the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which will be voted on by the Northern Ireland Assembly next Tuesday. If Sinn Féin – which opposes the amendment – lodges a “petition of concern”, the vote will not simply pass on a majority but will have to attract a quota of cross-community support.
The amendment, jointly proposed by the SDLP and the DUP, would specify that only the National Health Service (NHS) can provide legal terminations in Northern Ireland.
As the law stands, abortion is permitted only if the mother’s life is in danger or where she faces serious physical and mental health risks. Under the NHS, 43 such terminations took place in 2010-2011.
The DUP’s Paul Givan said the opening of the private Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast last October had revealed a “serious legal loophole” in that the clinic was “not accountable”.
“They don’t have to tell us how many abortions they perform. They don’t have to tell us about their oversight procedures.”
He said the NHS, by contrast, had “no financial interest, no perceived conflict of interest, and was totally accountable”.
Disability campaigner Kathy Sinnott said that if women were in life-threatening situations, they “should be in hospital”.
“The idea that anyone would support a private clinic in a life-threatening situation is a recipe for putting mothers and babies in terrible danger,” she said.
The point was echoed by Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson who said: “If a woman’s life is seriously at risk, what on earth is she doing on the streets of Belfast?
“I want to challenge Sinn Féin on this – do they truly believe that someone who is seriously ill should be treated by a private clinic rather than the NHS?”
Mr Givan added that he was “surprised” that Sinn Féin, “the socialist party”, would support the “privatisation of medical services”.
Senator Jim Walsh said any “liberalisation” of the abortion laws in the South went “to the heart of the dignity of human life”. Calling the Supreme Court’s ruling on the X case “deeply flawed”, he went on to say it was “almost impossible to identify suicidal intent with any accuracy”.
He said legislating for abortion, even in strictly controlled circumstances, was “always the thin end of the wedge”.