Catholic bishops condemn plan to impose ‘extreme’ abortion services on N Ireland

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Catholic bishops on Monday strongly criticized plans to impose “extreme and discriminatory” abortion services in Northern Ireland.

In a March 22 statement, the five bishops expressed deep concern at the British government’s intention to legislate further on the provision of abortion in Northern Ireland.

“What Westminster seeks to impose, against the clear will of a majority of people here, is a law which blatantly undermines the right to life of unborn children and promotes an abhorrent and indefensible prejudice against persons with disabilities, even before they are born,” they said.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, and Armagh auxiliary Bishop Michael Router.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but abortion law is a devolved issue and therefore the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, the devolved government of Northern Ireland, rather than the British government, based in Westminster, London. 

But due to the suspension of the regional government, the British parliament in October 2019 decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland and obliged the UK government to create legal access to abortion in the region.

The regulations from Westminster, which came into force March 31, 2020, allow elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother's physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormality.

“We are deeply concerned by the announcement that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to bypass the NI Assembly to force the Minister for Health here to commission some of the most extreme and liberal abortion services on these islands,” the bishops said.

“This is the latest in a line of unilateral interventions by the current Westminster Government to portray a reckless disregard for the fragile checks and balances of the international peace settlement between these islands.”

“Such a development should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who upholds the principle of devolution at the heart of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.”

According to official figures, 719 abortions were procured in Northern Ireland between March 31 and Oct. 14,

The Press Association reported that medical abortions have been arranged at individual health trusts, but the Northern Ireland Department of Health has not commissioned abortion provision across the region.

Brandon Lewis, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is expected to unveil new regulations at Westminster enabling him to direct the Department of Health to commission more widespread abortion services.

The bishops urged Catholic to contact their local representatives, known as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), protesting against the move.

“We call on all local MLAs and political parties to speak out against the extreme and profoundly discriminatory nature of these abortion regulations, which the Secretary of State seeks to impose over their heads,” they wrote.

“This is not a time for silence or strategic opting out. We ask you, as our locally elected representatives, not to meekly acquiesce in this effort to bypass internationally agreed devolved structures. We appeal to you to publicly defend the rights of all children in the womb to be treated equally and to have their right and that of their mothers to love, care and protection by our society respected and upheld.

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