The Northern Ireland Secretary has warned Stormont that if it does not expand abortion provision nationally then he will override the Executive and commission the services himself.
Earlier this week, the Government published new regulations giving Brandon Lewis MP extra powers over the Province, meaning he could force the NI Department of Health to commission services.
Decision-making at a local Health and Social Care Trust level is already in place and the number of abortions has risen hugely in the last year. But NI Health Minister Robin Swann has explained that, since abortion is a controversial issue, any decisions on central commissioning must be made by the Executive.
London’s move has proved controversial, with Westminster being accused of a ‘power grab’.
The Northern Ireland Executive has stated its clear opposition to the regulations and serious concerns have been raised over the impact of another move to override devolution.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Let us be clear, it is for the Executive. It is not for Brandon Lewis. The reason why he brought it to the House [of Commons] was that there was no devolution at the time. There is devolution now, and he should back off.”
During a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, the Secretary of State claimed on numerous occasions that abortion is a human right and basic ‘healthcare’ and that Parliament is under a moral obligation to impose the regulations on Northern Ireland.
A number of MPs spoke out powerfully against the Government’s stance.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart pointed out that “access to abortion services is a devolved issue, and this action represents a breach of the Belfast Agreement”. She also explained that the original regulations were opposed by every Northern Ireland MP who voted when they were debated in Parliament in 2019.
She said: “There is still time for the Secretary of State to think again before he takes action which will undermine and further destabilise the devolved institution”, concluding: “It is time for the Government to recognise the errors of their way” and “restore Northern Ireland’s life-affirming laws”.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, also of the DUP, said: “We want to see women in Northern Ireland have access to the best healthcare, of course, but we also believe passionately in protecting the life of the unborn child in Northern Ireland.
“That is a view shared right across our society, it is the view of a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“What the Government is seeking to do, is not only having imposed regulations on Northern Ireland on abortion, it is then seeking to direct the Northern Ireland Executive to implement regulations they never signed up to.
“Surely it should be left to local ministers to decide what services to commission, and not for Westminster to impose its view, in breach of the devolution settlement.”
Sanctity of life
Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh commented: “The abortion industry talks about the right to choose – what about the right to choose for the people of Northern Ireland? What would happen if they tried to impose their views on us?
“The fact of the matter is, Northern Ireland can run its own Government, as long as it keeps doing things we don’t disagree with. This is not democracy.”
“The fact is the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland believe in the sanctity of life, they oppose abortion, they have their own devolved administration – they should be allowed to run their own affairs.”
Abortion has already risen dramatically since the liberal abortion regime was introduced last year. In the twelve months prior to the law being changed, there were 22 abortions performed in Northern Ireland. Department of Health figures revealed that in the year following, 1,345 took place.
The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer Callum Webster responded: “It is deeply sad to see the extreme lengths that activist politicians resort to in their zeal to impose abortion on Northern Ireland.
“At a time when society is focussed on saving lives it is truly appalling that mainland politicians are pressurising our local Department of Health to divert its resources to destroying more unborn children.
“Such measures would undoubtedly lead to more children being aborted here.”
‘Radical, unreasonable, irresponsible’
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has urged the Northern Ireland Secretary not to follow through on his threats, calling them “ill-considered and irresponsible”.
Moderator Revd Dr David Bruce said: “As a Church with a strong pro-life position, we have put on record our total opposition to the imposition of abortion laws in Northern Ireland. Such laws have removed protection from the lives of unborn children.”
He added: “These radical, and unreasonably sweeping powers, go much further than we had been led to believe would be the case.”
In a letter to the Belfast News Letter, Donald John Morrison of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) wrote: “The latest scandalous announcement by the UK government to force Northern Ireland to speed up abortion services is a gross travesty of justice.
“Blasé politicians at Westminster seem to have no qualms in foisting heinous laws on the NI Assembly, that will result in the cruel deaths of thousands of unborn babies. That is what abortion does, it kills babies.”
He added that, despite Mr Lewis’s claims, “abortion is not a human right or healthcare. A human right to abortion does not and cannot exist, because the right to life of every person is widely recognised in international law as being the most fundamental and unalienable right upon which all other rights are built”.
He continued: “Neither is abortion ‘healthcare’. The term ‘healthcare’ implies that someone is being healed or that doctors will do what they can to save a person’s life.”