In March 2021, the U.K. government signaled its intention to unveil new regulations enabling Lewis to direct the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commission more widespread abortion services -- prompting criticism from the bishops.
Officials set out the measures in a statutory instrument -- a form of secondary legislation allowing government ministers to legislate on day-to-day matters -- known as the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021.
Although Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has not commissioned services centrally, health trusts are offering abortions.
According to the Department of Health, 1,556 abortions have taken place in Northern Ireland, which has a 1.9 million population, since the law changed in March 2020.
The bishops’ latest statement was issued in the name of 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.
The bishops noted that Northern Ireland Assembly elections are due to take place by May 5, 2022.
“As our society prepares in coming months to engage in the ultimate expression of democratic participation -- the election to our local Assembly -- we encourage all Catholics, and those share our view on the inviolability of all human life, to reflect carefully on the issues raised by this succession of unilateral impositions by the Westminster government,” they wrote.
“We encourage everyone who believes in the equal right to life and compassionate care for a mother and her unborn child to ask local candidates and political parties to explain their position on these interventions and on this most fundamental of all issues.”