The northern bishops say they are “saddened and dismayed” by what they describe as “extreme” new regulations from the British government legalising widespread access to abortion for the first time in the region.
“Their implementation will facilitate one of the most liberal abortion regimes anywhere in the world,” the prelates said in a statement March 31, the day the new regulations come into effect.
Britain’s 1967 abortion legalisation was not extended to the North at the time in the face of widespread opposition. However, in 2019, abortion was decriminalised in the region over the heads of locally-elected politicians by British MPs in a move that was widely criticised and opposed by all members of the UK Parliament from the North who take their seats.
Despite the fact that 79% of those who responded to a public consultation opposed the changes, the British government today imposed regulations regarding the provision of abortion in the region. The new framework provides for abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks, abortion up to 24 weeks for physical or mental health reasons and abortion for disability up to birth.
The bishops praised the efforts of authorities to prevent loss of life due to coronavirus. However, said that “against this background, we are saddened and dismayed at the government’s decision to introduce extreme regulations for the delivery of abortion services in Northern Ireland”.
The bishops said that the new provisions “utterly ignore the views of many citizens – women and men – who responded to the consultation exercise last December”.
“During the pandemic when so much is being done to protect lives, these regulations do not reflect the overwhelming will of most people in Northern Ireland to protect the life of every human being,’ the bishops said.
“From this week onwards, some unborn children will be left completely defenceless. No-one will be able to do anything for them once the decision to abort has finally been made. This is a disturbing prospect for our society, where the majority of people still seek to promote the values of compassion and respect for every human being,” the statement added.
The bishops say that they believe that “the life of every mother and her unborn baby matters. These new regulations are predicated on the legal assumption that the unborn child has no rights, unless the child is wanted. Every unborn baby matters regardless of age or ability, gender or background.
“He or she has the right to be protected in a community where everyone belongs and deserves our respect. Every woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy matters too. She has a right to be cared for within a community where she is protected from any pressure to abort her baby,” it said.
The bishops are also putting pressure on locally-accountable politicians and pointed out that members of the power-sharing assembly “are not left entirely devoid of influence”.
“Politicians and all people of goodwill, who recognise the extreme nature of the regulations, should not meekly acquiesce to their promulgation. The regulations themselves can be debated by the Assembly and insofar as they exceed the strict requirements of the 2019 Act, new Regulations can be enacted by the Assembly.
“We intend to make these points in writing to our MLAs in the coming days and encourage others to do likewise,” the bishops said.
“In a community where the culture of life is promoted and celebrated, these rights of mothers and their unborn babies would always be protected. We, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland, remain committed to working with all sectors of society, so that this culture of life becomes a reality for everyone,” the statement concluded.