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UN Pressures Northern Ireland on Abortion | Regan King

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UN calls UK to further liberalise abortion law

Last month, the United Nations released its Human Rights Council’s Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK and its territories. Only 42% of the 227 proposals were agreed to be addressed by the government who published their response last week.

Among the rejected proposals were recommendations by four nations for the UK to amend Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions.

The UN Report called for the UK to:

“Ensure that the law governing access to abortion in Northern Ireland fully complies with international human rights law, by decriminalising abortion and ensuring access to abortion in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies and where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.”

Similarly, there was the request that the UK:

“Take necessary measures to provide reproductive healthcare services for women and girls in line with its CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] obligations.”


UK refuses to comply with UN requests

The position laid out by the UK government in response to the UN’s proposals particularly addressed the UPR’s concerns pertaining to Northern Ireland. While acknowledging that proposals for abortion reform will be resubmitted to Stormont Minister and the Northern Ireland Executive should it return from its current dissolved state, the UK reaffirmed Northern Ireland’s sovereignty in the matter.

The response states that:

“Criminal law is a matter devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. The law on abortion is different to the other jurisdictions in the UK… The law on abortion in Northern Ireland itself remains a devolved matter and is a decision for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.” [1]

Unsurprisingly, The UK’s reminder of its own independent sovereignty in law-making has not been well received by the UN and its affiliated groups. David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has blamed Brexit. Citing the UK’s historical championing of human rights, Isaac has warned the UN to expect a lowering of UK standards when it comes to human rights. Isaac says:

“…the UK government’s continued refusal to fully incorporate the UN treaties it has signed shows scant regard for its international commitments. We are disappointed by the lack of leadership on human rights across the UK government.”

Humanists UK Director Director of Public Affairs and Policy, Richy Thompson, has also expressed his dismay with the UK’s assertion of its own independence:

“As the rest of the UK marks the 50th anniversary of both the decriminalisation of homosexuality and safe legal abortion, it is no longer acceptable for the Government to lay responsibility for resolution upon a Northern Ireland Assembly which is not currently sitting and which been unwilling to redress these issues for many years.”


Ongoing pressure to reform Northern Ireland laws

Earlier this year, after much pressure to further liberalise Northern Ireland’s current abortion laws – the strictest in the UK – The Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld Stormont’s right to determine the nation’s abortion laws.

At the same time, the campaign group, Both Lives Matter, revealed that around 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted were it legal to do so.

Spokesperson Dawn McAvoy said:

“We hope that Northern Ireland will not fall for the modern myth that progress on women's rights should be measured by the ability to end the life of their own children.”

Sadly, despite such statistics, the British government announced in June that it would start funding abortions for Northern Irish women unable to obtain the procedure in Northern Ireland. Despite the DUP’s coalition with the Conservative Party following the recent election, Ian Paisley Jr has indicated the announcement will not pressure a change in Northern Irish legislation. He said,

I'm going to make it absolutely clear that the rights of the unborn child, in my view and in the views of people in my party and on this bench, trump any political agreement that had been put in place.

Earlier this year, Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern upheld Northern Ireland as an example to the rest of the UK:

“This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, which has seen over 8 million babies lost to abortion. Every single day, 550 precious lives are ended in the UK before they are even born. This is tragedy on an unbelievable scale. We should take encouragement from the bid to protect life in Northern Ireland, and be spurred on to do the same in England and Wales.”

Please pray as we continue to stand with those in Northern Ireland who continue to fight for the protection of life from the moment of conception.


 [1] United Nations Universal Periodic Review, United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, Annex to the response to the recommendations received on 4 May 2017 [Download]

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