Pro-life organisations in the North have sharply criticised a vote in the House of Commons to introduce widespread access to abortion throughout Northern Ireland.
Tuesday evening saw British MPs voting 332-99 in favour of an amendment to a bill connected to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation bill. The amendment was tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, and proposes that the British Government should legislate for abortion in the North if Stormont is not restored by October 21. The North has been without an Executive since January 2017.
It followed a similar amendment, tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn, to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, bringing it into line with the rest of the UK. Mr McGinn’s amendment was passed 383-73. The Northern Ireland minister, John Penrose, voted in favour of both amendments.
“This is without question a sad day for Northern Ireland,” said Dawn McAvoy of Both Lives Matter, lamenting that if the bill is not further amended in the House of Lords it could lead to the introduction of a British-style abortion regime in the North by the end of the year.
“Despite all the talk about human rights, there is no human right to end a human life,” she said. “Regardless of anyone’s views on abortion they should be deeply concerned when the ending of pre-born life at will is linked to ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ for women.”
Northern Ireland’s exclusion from the 1967 Abortion Act means that over 100,000 people are alive today who would not be otherwise, she added.
Bernadette Smyth, Director of Precious Life, described the development as “the gravest betrayal of democracy in living memory”.
Claiming that it disregards the principles of devolution and must be resisted, she described Westminster as having “done the unthinkable”.
“No other Government in the world would dare to vote over the heads of another government and another country’s democratic process to completely ignore the democratic will of the people here,” she said. “This Bill has been hijacked by abortion extremists to introduce an unthinkably cruel and extreme abortion law here if Stormont is not functioning by October 21 2019 and we will not stand for this.”
Mrs Smyth said British MPs have no mandate to speak for the people of Northern Ireland, and said: “The onus is now on Sinn Féin and the DUP to get our Government up and running by October 21 to ensure that this abhorrent attack on our democracy is resisted.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín has called the vote an “attack on democracy”. Contrasting the vote with the referendum on Ireland’s Eighth Amendment and subsequent legislation, which he described as “difficult for many of us”, he said: “It is outrageous that British politicians with no democratic mandates in Ireland should seek to change this law in the North of Ireland.”
While the amendment might provide an incentive for the DUP to break the deadlock in talks with Sinn Féin about reviving the Executive, others have speculated that Sinn Féin’s support for the two measures could encourage it to reject any DUP overtures so the British-imposed amendments can take effect.