Respond to consultation on abortion in Northern Ireland

4 December 2019

On 4 November 2019, the Government opened a new consultation on abortion in Northern Ireland which closes on 16 December. The consultation pertains to developing a new legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland following 31 March 2020.

We urge our supporters, particularly those in Northern Ireland, to respond. The Christian Legal Centre’s response can be downloaded.

Dark times ahead

The consultation foreshadows a dark piece of legislation which may have far reaching consequences to rights of conscience, safeguards for the unborn child, the right to protest abortion and even late term abortion. From the consultation, it can be gleaned that Parliament is not only seeking to legislate abortion on demand in Northern Ireland, it wishes to enact legislation which is even more extreme than the Abortion Act 1967 which has led to the abortion of more than 9 million unborn children in England, Wales and Scotland.

It is therefore important to re-visit recent events which have led to this consultation.

CEDAW and the Supreme Court

In February 2018, CEDAW issued a blistering report accusing Northern Ireland of being in non-compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in the manner it legislated abortion. It is factually important to remember the following: (a) that report is wholly non-binding; (b) the Committee’s opinions regarding abortion are ultra vires (abortion is nowhere mentioned in the Convention as an enumerated right); (c) the Committee is non-elected, has no special expertise, the members are not necessarily legally trained and not a single representative of the Committee is from the United Kingdom. The Committee is well known for sweeping and radical positions such as calling for the decriminalisation of abortion everywhere and under all circumstances.

On 7 June 2018, the Supreme Court issued a non-binding judgment on abortion in Northern Ireland holding that the complainant did not have legal standing to bring the case. It nonetheless took the highly unusual step of issuing a 144 page decision dealing with the case hypothetically, and suggesting that had the complainant had standing it would have found the abortion laws in Northern Ireland at that time incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

In doing so, the Supreme Court took a step which was at odds with the European Court of Human Rights itself, which has always maintained that the Convention does not confer a right to abortion. Part of the reasoning for that, the Strasbourg Court has explained, is to respect national sovereignty and the principle of subsidiarity. It is ironic in that sense, that the Supreme Court made its ruling in violation of that very principle, showing contempt for the devolution agreement between Northern Ireland and Westminster. It should also be noted that even had the Supreme Court issued a declaration of incompatibility, under the Human Rights Act 1998, this in itself would have not invalidated the then existing Northern Irish laws on abortion.

Last year’s consultation

This led to a public consultation where the super-majority of respondents were against intervention by Westminster into an area of law clearly devolved to the Northern Irish Assembly. More so, the vast majority of Northern Irish respondents to the consultation were against such intervention.

The House of Commons’ Women and Equality Committee also took oral evidence, a process which included hearing testimony from the Christian Legal Centre. The starting point of those hearings was not ‘if’ Westminster should intervene, but ‘how’ it should intervene. Despite the appearance of only being concerned about fatal fetal abnormality, incest and rape, it was clear from those hearings that the end goal was abortion on demand in Northern Ireland.

On the 25th of April, the Committee issued its report calling for Westminster to intervene by legislating a new abortion law into Northern Ireland on the basis of an unsubstantiated human rights argument (propped up on the non-binding actions of the Supreme Court and CEDAW Committee).

Using legitimate democratic tools to accomplish the illegitimate

On 9 July 2019, a bill meant to keep public services running in Northern Ireland was hijacked to include a provision aimed at decriminalising abortion, in breach of the devolution agreement. So egregious and undemocratic was this amendment that not a single representative from Northern Ireland voted in favour of it.

Following the failed restoration of the Assembly by the 21 October deadline prescribed by the 9 July bill, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 was promulgated, prompting this most recent consultation.

As this history shows, Westminster has commandeered the tools of democracy to enact legislation that the vast majority of people have expressed their opposition to, basing their actions on sketchy legal premises and in direct violation of the devolution agreement. In so doing, it has been incredibly deceitful in suggesting that it only wished to remedy the ‘human rights violations’ suggested by non-binding recommendations from CEDAW and the Supreme Court. Instead, it has not only sought to implement abortion on demand, it has done so in a manner which is even more extreme than the Abortion Act 1967.

This consultation, just like last year’s on the same subject, is window dressing to give the appearance of a democratic process. To be clear, democracy has not been served by this consultation or the actions of Parliament. To the contrary, using democratic and legislative tools meant to serve the people in a manner which does exactly the opposite is a dereliction of duty and a fundamental violation of the rule of law.

Please Act Now

Democracy, Northern Irish sovereignty and the lives of countless unborn children are at stake.

We’ve prepared a document to help you respond to the questions – please use it to inform your response. Download here.

We strongly urge you to complete this consultation and take the Westminster Parliament to task for the way it has trodden on the rule of law. Too much is at stake not to register your opposition. The time for action is now.

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