With Fiona Bruce MP, MLAs Carla Lockhart and Paul Givan and Irish Senator, Ronan Mullen at Stormont, September 2019.
Kill the Bill Not Northern Ireland ‘s Future….
Speech in the House of Lords
My Lords, I have heard no voice raised this evening urging the restoration of direct rule, yet paradoxically when it comes to the question of abortion this House and another place did not hesitate to set aside devolution to impose laws in Northern Ireland on a highly sensitive and contested devolved question. I have never disguised my opposition to laws which in Great Britain have led to 9 million abortions—one every three minutes—and permit abortion up to birth in the case of disability. Let me make it clear as well that in the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is no human right to abortion.
This is a highly contested question and the right to life is for many a paramount right. This may not be a view that all hold, but it is a respectable minority view and it is held by millions. Indeed, over the weekend in Northern Ireland thousands of people protested peacefully against the decision made here in July through the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act—the Act we are discussing now—which imposes changes in the law on Northern Ireland. In an exemplary, dignified and united way, right across the community citizens who believe that both lives in a pregnancy matter made their voices heard. For so many living in Northern Ireland, what happened in this House and the other place made a mockery of democracy. Radical amendments, overturning devolved legislation endorsed by the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly as recently as 2016, were simply tagged on to an emergency Bill which had nothing to do with abortion.
This was legislation rushed through in a pell-mell way, which disconcertingly resulted in this House not amending but completely rewriting the amendment inserted in another place. The democratically elected House then had hardly any debating time for the actual text of what is now Section 9. It spent a paltry 17 minutes debating the final text of Section 9, which removes all legal protections from the unborn child in Northern Ireland until they are capable of being born alive, a point in time that is contested and in relation to which the only explicit protection applies from 28 weeks’ gestation. That is four weeks later than in Great Britain and 16 weeks later than in the Republic of Ireland. There was, of course, no consultation with the people of Northern Ireland; there was not even a specific vote on the reworded Clause 9, which was rejected by all Northern Ireland MPs who take their seats at Westminster when the matter, albeit with entirely different words, was subjected to a specific vote on 9 July.
The report produced on abortion law reform required under Section 3(10) highlights the deeply flawed nature of the new legislation on abortion coming into force on 22 October unless the Northern Ireland Executive is restored. With just over six weeks to go, the Northern Ireland Office, which incidentally I sympathise with as this legislative process was not its idea, is openly stating that,
“much further work is required before we are in a place to deliver on this duty if it comes into effect”.
Considering the enormously serious nature of the issue at stake here and regardless of your views, this is deeply troubling. These surely must be seen as matters of life and death. The report goes on to say that there is no,
“clear path forward in terms of the regulations and non-legislative measures”.
By any measure, this is patently absurd. It is bad enough for the Westminster Parliament to remove a law that the democratically elected representatives of Northern Ireland voted not to change in any way as recently as 2016, on the spurious grounds that there was a legal human rights imperative for doing so, which, as the expert legal opinion of Professor Mark Hill makes plain, is without any foundation.
It is, however, utterly extraordinary and deeply wrong to remove that law five months before requiring a new law to be put in its place. That is plainly irresponsible. This in and of itself is incredible when you reflect on it. Abortion would be legalised for any reason including gender, disability and convenience up to the point of viability on 22 October, but there is to be no notification requirement on the part of medical authorities or abortion providers to say that an abortion has taken place. There will be no requirement for abortions to take place in particular places and no explicit legal protection for the rights of conscience for medical professionals who oppose abortion for ethical reasons. What would not be tolerated elsewhere in the United Kingdom is to be imposed in Northern Ireland.
The only way that this can be prevented is for the Executive and the Assembly to be restored. The decision on how and whether to provide abortion should be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through a proper legislative process, rather than with minimal consideration in an Act that was stampeded through Parliament without any consultation with individuals who actually live in Northern Ireland. For what it is worth, I am going to Northern Ireland later this week and will be urging MLAs to do all they can to restore the Executive. Northern Ireland deserves to be governed again by those whom the people there actually elect. To prevent this direct rule, and for so many other reasons which are highlighted and have been mentioned in our earlier debates, we must see the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive. I plead with the parties in Northern Ireland to do all in their power to bring that about
No doubt there will be the usual news blackout which occurs when the “right” to take the life of a baby in the womb is challenged.
A vast crowd, united from across Northern Ireland’s communities, gathered tonight at Stormont to defy the Westminster Parliament – who, in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, have passed a law to impose abortion on Northern Ireland.
As the protesters know, the law can still be stopped if the Assembly meets before October 21st.
But, the clock is ticking. It’s really urgent. The October 21st deadline is looming. This is literally a matter of life and death.
If Northern Ireland political parties do not reconvene the Stormont Assembly by October 21st one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world will be imposed on Northern Ireland. This will allow for the ending of unborn lives, on-demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks.
Northern Ireland would go from a nation which has 100,000 people alive today because of their pro-life laws, and which recognises that both lives matter, to a country where a baby in the womb could be aborted right through to seven-months.
This change in law will legalise sex-selective abortion; disability selective-abortion for cleft-lip, club foot and down’s syndrome; twin abortions (select one to live and on to die); no law stopping babies born alive after an abortion being left to die; legalised partial-birth abortions.
This is just the beginning, it gets worse.
There would be no restrictions on where abortion can be performed, meaning abortions could be performed almost anywhere including schools and mobile abortion clinics. Young girls would be able to get abortions without their parent’s consent. There would be no requirement that a doctor must be involved.
There would be no consideration period for women, allowing for fast-tracked or ‘lunch-hour’ abortions. There would be no law to help prevent boyfriends from coercing a woman into having an abortion. There would be no conscientious objection protections in law for pro-life doctors who don’t want to perform abortions. It would be more difficult to prosecute men who slip abortion pills into a woman’s food. There would be no provision for independent counselling for women seeking an abortion.
There would also be no pain relief given to babies during abortions.
Northern Ireland’s MLAs must kill this Westminster Bill not their future children. They have a duty to listen to the united voices of the people who elected them and who today protested with such dignity and resolve.