The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which mandated new abortion regulations in the region, is “an unjust law,” the bishops said, “which was imposed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The bishops added they are “morally obliged, wherever possible, to do all we can to save the lives of unborn children, which could be lost through abortion, and to protect mothers from the pressures they might experience at the time of an unplanned pregnancy. We trust that you recognise this to be an obligation we all share as concerned citizens and public representatives.”
“As the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland we are eager to enter into dialogue with MLAs from across the political parties in an attempt to explore, where possible, how new Regulations can be formulated, which express the will of most people in our society to support and protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children,” the bishops wrote.
The Northern Ireland Executive is a power-sharing body that includes both unionists and Irish nationalists.
The largest party in the assembly, by one member, is the Democratic Unionist Party, which have emerged as a leading pro-life party in the region. However, the unionist party has had links to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, an ecclesial community particularly hostile to the Catholic Church.
The next largest party is Sinn Féin, an Irish nationalist party that has historically enjoyed significant Catholic support. It supported the liberalization of abortion laws in Northern Ireland imposed by the British parliament, and its party members endorsed the repeal of the Republic of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which protected unborn children.
The remaining parties in the assembly allow their MLAs a conscience vote on abortion.
Jim Allister, the Traditional Unionist Voice's sole MLA and a member of the opposition, said on the regulations' coming into force that “From today, what should be the safest place for an unborn, namely its mother’s womb, can become on a whim one of the most dangerous places.”
And the leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Clare Bailey, has welcomed the new regulations, saying that “access to abortion is a positive move.”
First Minister Arlene Foster, who is also leader of the DUP, said earlier this month that “I don't believe abortion on demand should be available in Northern Ireland,” calling it “a very retrograde step for our society.”
“Instead of supporting people who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, we’re not even having any discussion around that and how we can support people in those circumstances, how we can provide perinatal care,” she added.
In contrast, Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister and vice president of Sinn Féin, urged that women in Northern Ireland be allowed to perform medical abortions at home.
(Story cotinues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
At-home medical abortions were discussed by the region's executive April 6, which reportedly led to a row between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
The pro-life group the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have placed billboards in the region that urge the repeal of the regulations, and note that “Abortion kills babies”.
The poster campaign is set to expand after the Advertising Standards Authority, a regulator, rejected complaints about the billboards.
The ASA affirmed that the advertisements comply with freedem of speech defenses in the Human Rights Act 1998.
Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland Political Officer, said that “We intend to extend the initiative and continue to build support for the restoration of the right to life of all unborn children.”
Previously, abortion was legally permitted in the region only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.