Northern Ireland’s bishops have said new abortion laws in Northern Ireland are “unjust” and that no one is obliged to cooperate with them.
Currently there is a regulatory framework in place in the North that governs abortion provision until more permanent legislation is expected to be introduced in three months.
“The new regulatory framework in Northern Ireland should provide all health professionals including midwives, nurses and ancillary staff working in hospitals and other community settings with the right to refuse to participate in any aspect of the delivery of abortion services such as consultation, administration, preparation, in addition to the direct and intentional act of abortion itself,” the bishops said. They added this should include pharmacists.
Archbishop Eamon Martin and Bishops Noel Treanor, Donal McKeown, Larry Duffy and Michael Router oppose any provisions to provide the abortion pill in schools. They have been backed by the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland has since reiterated its opposition to the new laws.
“The provision of abortion services in our schools would be contrary to everything a Catholic school stands for with regard to respect for all citizens and the promotion of the common good,” said the bishops.
“No one is obliged in conscience to cooperate with any action permitted by this law which directly and intentionally leads to the killing of an unborn child. Indeed, everyone is morally obliged to oppose this law by conscientious objection.”
In July two sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which made abortion a criminal offence, were repealed by the passing of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019, voted on in Westminster.
The laws are in line with recommendations in a UN report that said abortion should be legalised where there is a threat to a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health. The same act legalised same-sex marriage in the North.
Coming into effect in October, it removed laws against abortion in Northern Ireland. However, without the restrictions of England, Wales, and Scotland, giving Northern Ireland the most liberal abortion laws in the UK.
Stormont has until the end of March to draw up regulations.
The bishops said obstetrics and gynaecology “must not become the domain of only those doctors and other medical staff who are willing to participate in abortion services”.
Problems such as lack of counselling, poverty, relationship difficulties, housing, child care and safeguarding which can lead to women seeking abortion, they said, need to be addressed.