Belfast bishop urges people to oppose NI abortion law change

Labour MP to table amendment to extend access to abortion to Northern Ireland

A Catholic bishop in Northern Ireland has called on people there to contact their MPs "urgently" to oppose an attempt in the House of Commons on Monday to introduce abortion in the North.

Labour MP Stella Creasy is to table an amendment to the NI (Executive Formation) Bill seeking to extend access to abortion to Northern Ireland, arguing that the London government is obliged to do so to comply with human rights obligations. Up to 60 MPs from across the House parties are expected to support her amendment.

The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act makes obtaining or helping somebody obtain an abortion a criminal offence and still applies in Northern Ireland.

Ms Creasy’s Bill notes that last year a UN committee found that women were “subjected to grave and systematic violations of rights through being compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term”.


It is estimated in 2018 about 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales for an abortion.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, currently competing to become Britain's prime minister, have both ruled out changing the abortion law in Northern Ireland as it is supported by the Democratic Unionist Party.

In a statement at the weekend, the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor described it as "vital" that citizens of Northern Ireland, "and especially Christian citizens, take note that the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, now before the Westminster Parliament, is being used to introduce amendments aiming to liberalise provision of abortion in Northern Ireland without the say-so of either the citizens of Northern Ireland or their elected representatives."

He viewed “with the deepest concern this eleventh hour initiative by some MP’s to table amendments to a Bill, whose primary function is to put in place measures to accommodate the ongoing absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly”.

The issue of the protection of human life and the redefinition of marriage were “not just devolved matters, which should be decided upon by the people of Northern Ireland, but touchstone issues which deserve the most anxious and intense consideration by legislators and citizens,” he said.

He encouraged “everyone urgently to contact their MP” on the matter “to register their objection to this undemocratic process”.

His statement was circulated at weekend Masses in the diocese which includes parishes in Antrim, Down and Derry.

In Dublin on Saturday the Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary and Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran took part with thousands of others in the 12th annual annual anti-abortion Rally for Life.

“I march today because I believe it remains as important as ever to affirm the sanctity of all human life. The direct and intentional taking of the life of any innocent human being is always gravely wrong – we must avoid becoming desensitised to the value of every human life,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said.

Abortion became available in the Republic this year following a referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times