- Politicians from across the political spectrum sign open letter accusing UK government of “contempt” over proposed abortion framework
- Government should respect devolution
BELFAST (12 December 2019) – In an open letter to the Belfast Telegraph, a group of notable cross-community politicians from Northern Ireland have criticised the UK Government’s proposals to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The signatories, who include widely respected human rights expert Baroness O’Loan and DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, say that the current proposals undermine devolution as they go far beyond what is legally required of the Government. The letter comes after the Government launched a consultation on a new legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland on 4 November.
In July, MPs in Westminster voted to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. All sitting MPs from Northern Ireland rejected the change to the law, and the passing of the legislation was criticised heavily at the time for undermining the devolution settlement. However, further outrage was sparked after it became clear from the Government’s proposals that it intended to legislate for abortion in more circumstances than is required under the Westminster legislation.
“Human rights apply to all members of the human family regardless of their age. In looking to go beyond the minimum requirements imposed by Westminster in July, the Government is further undermining the devolution settlement and the will of the people in Northern Ireland. There is no right to abortion under international law, but rather protections for the right to life of every human being. The Government’s proposals would not only undemocratically impose abortion on Northern Ireland, but would do so in an unnecessarily broad manner,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International.
Resistance from Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Assembly had rejected a change to abortion laws as recently as 2016. Despite the Government insisting that the Assembly should be responsible for any change, MPs from Scotland, Wales, and England voted to impose a new abortion regime that implemented the recommendations of an unelected United Nations committee. The open letter calls on the Government to limit changes to the legal requirements if it wishes to uphold its role as the “guarantor of devolution”, further noting that:
“No part of these islands has ever been treated as Northern Ireland has been treated…on a life and death issue where it is clear that the distinctive approach of Northern Ireland means that 100,000 people are alive today who would not be had this region followed the others.”