‘England get out of Ireland’ does not apply to abortion

Sinn Féin and DUP show abortion ranks higher than nationalism or unionism

An anti-abortion activist demonstrates outside Parliament Buildings in Belfast on Monday during a special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

An anti-abortion activist demonstrates outside Parliament Buildings in Belfast on Monday during a special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

 

The behaviour of those who have imposed abortion on Northern Ireland is reprehensible but so is that of the people who have stood aside and allowed it to happen. Forcing an abortion regime has made a mockery of devolution and seriously threatened the Belfast Agreement. 

Contrast the disgusted reaction to Brexit being imposed on the people of Northern Ireland who did not vote for it with the delight expressed at the imposition of abortion on people who did not vote for it.

Despite a large grassroots resistance and courageous leadership by Nuala O’Loan and others, abortion in Northern Ireland has effectively been decriminalised up until 28 weeks. The BBC reported this week that 82 per cent of babies born at 26 weeks’ gestation survive. The British Association of Perinatal Medicine has issued guidance that premature babies of 22 weeks’ gestation are not to be excluded from treatment because although survival rates are still low, they are improving all the time. But abortion up to 28 weeks is apparently fine for Northern Ireland. 

What else would we expect from a British government that seemed to forget that Northern Ireland existed when proposing a referendum on Brexit?

Unlike England and Wales, there will be no laws specific to abortion regulating the conduct of individuals or institutions that provide abortion services in Northern Ireland between October 22nd and March 31st 2020. There will be no provision for counselling, for record-keeping, for parental consent, or anything other than the most minimal freedom of conscience.

UN committee

The amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 imposing abortion took 17 minutes to pass in the British parliament. The alleged aim is to give effect to recommendations set out in the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report but there is no attempt to give effect even to the extraordinarily limited protections suggested by CEDAW. For example, for babies with life-limiting conditions, CEDAW declares that abortion should be legal “without perpetuating stereotypes towards persons with disabilities and ensuring appropriate and ongoing support, social and financial, for women who decide to carry such pregnancies to term”.

The British government’s response is to give the charity BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) responsibility for organising funded travel and abortion for any Northern Irish woman who wants it until a full abortion regime is available in Northern Ireland. Not a word about “appropriate and ongoing support, social and financial” for anyone, whether the baby has a life-limiting condition or not.

When the British parliament passed the Abortion Act 1967, it did not decriminalise abortion. Instead, it outlined certain conditions under which someone carrying out an abortion would not be prosecuted. But decriminalisation up to 28 weeks is perfectly fine for Northern Ireland.

What else would we expect from a British government that seemed to forget that Northern Ireland existed when proposing a referendum on Brexit? And which was happy to rely on the votes of the 10 DUP MPs until it sold them down the river?

The goal for many abortion advocates is complete decriminalisation of abortion as pertains in Canada, where abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy. They assure us that it does not lead to excessive levels of abortion.

The state-reported total for all abortions in Canada in 2017 was 94,030. There were 376,291 live births.  One Canadian baby is aborted for every four born alive.

In 2017, there were 706 reported abortions in Canada at 21+ weeks. The key word here is ‘reported’. The figures for gestational age include only hospitals, not clinics where more than two-thirds of abortions happen, and also do not include abortions in Quebec. This is the much-vaunted Canadian regime that some abortion advocates want to see everywhere.

Arrogance

The list of those who shamefully colluded in bringing abortion to Northern Ireland either through acts of commission or omission is long. It begins with Labour MP Stella Creasy, who proposed the amendment. The arrogance of this amendment is breathtaking and is not far from the neo-colonial implication that Creasy would presumably deplore in other contexts, that the Northern Irish cannot be trusted to govern themselves.

There is no excuse for tolerating the despicable behaviour of Sinn Féin, refusing to take British parliament seats but delighted to see British direct rule imposed when it suits

However, the failure of the Northern parties to reinstate the Northern Irish executive, despite MLAs drawing more than €17 million in salaries for the past thousand days of deadlock, is nothing short of disgraceful.

The allegedly pro-life DUP, despite its late attempt to reconvene the assembly this week, never once thought until way beyond the 11th hour to exert its considerable power over the Conservatives in order to protect unborn life. (Creasy feared that the DUP would do just that. She had nothing to worry about.) The DUP considered cash-for-ash and the Irish language obstacles too big to overcome to protect innocent lives. Forgive me if I cannot weep that Johnson gleefully betrayed them.

The SDLP was smugly complicit. As for Sinn Féin, those who are pro-life can neither vote for it nor remain within its ranks. Aontú provides a viable alternative, so there is no excuse for tolerating the despicable behaviour of Sinn Féin, refusing to take British parliament seats but delighted to see British direct rule imposed when it suits them. Sinn Féin has cheerfully betrayed every core value it allegedly holds. “England. get out of Ireland” apparently does not apply to abortion. 

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